Friday, November 22, 2013

Educators strategize ways to convince legislators to raise school funding at least back to '08 levels

Bob Sexton lives!

I was fortunate enough to be invited to this week's Prichard Committee/Kentucky Education Action Team meeting in Lexington and I came away with one overriding impression. Bob Sexton's spirit remained thick in the room - not just a recollection of his intellectual prowess and education advocacy, but his understanding of what it takes to mobilize people around an idea whose time has come. Stu Silberman, and Cindy Heine I suspect, choreographed an great line up of state leaders who covered all of the necessary bases: The Kentucky PTA (parents), KEA (teachers), the Commissioner on the current state of education funding, KASS (the Superintendents), a student (Dunbar's Andrew Brennen was a hit), KTRS (Retired teachers), lunch in regional groups (with a few legislators), KBE (State Board), KASA (school administrators), Council for Better Education (rattled the sabre a little), KSBA (school boards) and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson closed with a stem-winding call to action.

If he had been physically present, I'm sure Bob would have admonished the gathering, "Make them hear you!"

Sexton left his precious committee with a few guidelines; what the staff called "Bobisms."

Be careful about what not to say.
Don't gather people just to see us and talk. Give them something to do.
Don't take the attacks personally.
The job got done didn't it. It doesn't matter who gets the credit.
Thank people for what they're going to do.
Think openly. Don't let emotions cloud your judgment.
His proteges learned his lessons well.

I had to leave for a College of Ed meeting back at EKU, so I missed Tim Hanner (former Kenton Co Supt who started the NKEAT) and KASC's group work with the attendees. But unless I miss my guess, about 250 people left that day with plans to speak to their local legislators.

The challenge will be to see if the group can carry a unified message to Frankfort. And what message should that be? If the message is to restore funds to education, but the legislature does not feel any pressure to fix the tax code, any "solution" will be insufficient and temporary.

This from CN/2:
Strides that the commonwealth has made in student test scores, advanced placement classes and curriculum changes are at risk of being reversed unless state funding levels are raised, education leaders said Thursday.

The challenge, though, will be convincing lawmakers to do that amid all the other funding needs — Medicaid, public employee pensions and social services — as the next two-year budget is crafted starting in January. So educators began their strategizing about to how to do that during Thursday’s summit on education funding sponsored by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and the Kentucky Education Access Team (KEAT).

Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee, told the group of superintendents, principals, teachers and parents that while Kentucky has been recognized nationally for making strides in test scores and curriculum, Kentucky also gets low grades for the level of funding per student.

“Our students and our schools can not maintain these levels of learning without additional state funding,” said Silberman.

School districts have seen the funding drop from $3,866 per student in 2008 to the current total of $3,827 per year. Lawmakers and the governor tried to keep the funding levels static over the last five years during the recession. But increased enrollment without an increase in funding effectively amounted to cuts. Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s message to legislators is to
return the funding level to where it was in 2008.

“Ladies and gentleman of the General Assembly, if you don’t invest in education, the nose dive will happen quicker than the rise happened,” Holliday said.

Holliday said funding shortfalls have been particularly tough on teachers who must make due with out of date textbooks and limited supplies.

“You go all over this state, teachers are begging, borrowing, stealing, they’re going anywhere they can to get materials to give to kids,” Holliday said.

The lack of funding is also crippling many districts, pushing a few toward bankruptcy, Holliday said.
The Kentucky Department had to take over the Breathitt County School District and at the end of this past school year. And the cash-strapped Monticello School District was forced to close and merge with Wayne County.

“We’ve got about 10 districts — as I look at them — they could be headed toward bankruptcy in the next 12-18 months if something doesn’t happen,” Holliday said.

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson said that engaging legislators by phone and in person is an effective way to try to get increased funding for Kentucky’s students.

Abramson spent all of 2012 heading up a task force to recommend ways to revamp Kentucky’s tax code so that state revenue can grow better with the economy. The group of business leaders and education and health advocates suggested concepts like spreading Kentucky’s 6 percent sales tax to certain services and lowering income tax rates.

With those recommendations currently sitting in a binder and not being pushed by Gov. Steve Beshear or lawmakers, Abramson urged educators to launch their own lobbying effort to get more money from Frankfort.

“Nothing’s going to happen unless we get involved.”

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