The recently enacted state budget is another step backward for Kentucky kids. And it comes at a particularly bad time - just when the state is poised to move student achievement to the next level and help lead the nation on the most important education reforms in a generation.
Our ranking on key indicators of progress has moved from the cellar (43rd in 1992) to closer to the middle (32nd in 2009), according to an index compiled by the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center. Kentucky students scored above the national average in science, reading and fourth-grade math on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Kentucky legislation enacted in 2009 requiring new, tougher academic standards positioned Kentucky to be the first state to commit to common standards developed by a consortium of 48 states. This summer, Kentucky educators are working to move those higher standards into classroom use, and new statewide tests will be administered in 2012 to reflect the changes.
In short, we're setting higher expectations and giving educators more to do, but our schools have fewer resources to work with.
Two cuts deserve special mention. First, cuts in professional development come at the very moment we are asking teachers to master new standards and develop more effective ways to teach them in the classroom. We say, "Learn more, do more," but then we strip away most of the funding to help teachers do that.
Second, the 2012 budget will eliminate all funding for highly skilled educators - people of great talent and expertise who help the state turn around Kentucky's weakest schools. Education Commissioner Terry Holliday had hoped to use these funds to deploy people to help build local capacity to ensure classroom success with the new standards. Instead, the new budget includes bad cuts to the funding we need to implement some very good reforms.
As direct funding to help kids learn is cut, one big thing is still growing - health insurance costs. These show up in the direct cost of employee health insurance, the health-driven share of current retirement premiums, and the state's continuing obligation to pay back the retirement system for the legislature's past borrowing. From 2009 to 2012, those benefit costs will increase by $138 million. Meanwhile everything else the state spends on P-12 education goes down by $107 million.
Clearly, the recession and an outdated revenue system are not the only things undermining Kentucky's ability to do what it needs to do in education. Indeed, the unsustainable growth in health insurance costs could be the worst revenue problem we have.
Kentucky's governor and legislators must do two things if we are to stop eating our seed corn.They must reform our antiquated tax system so state education revenue can keep up with economic growth. And they must get control of spiraling health insurance costs while ensuring that teachers and other public employees receive fair and sustainable benefits. None of this will be easy.
We need more thinking - and action - to meet our obligations to Kentucky's school children and to the future of our commonwealth.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Ky. education cuts undermine gains
This from Bob Sexton in the Enquirer: