Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Good Progress. Now What?

I continue to reflect on where Kentucky has been and where we need to go in educating our children, and I become more concerned each day. As I shared in a recent blog post, Reform 2.0--But Without Funding, Kentucky has been a leader in education reform since the 1990s, when the nation took note of the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA). At the time, Kentucky had nowhere to go but up with its 48th place national ranking on education indicators. The state's position has improved to 33rd, based on a collection of indicators measuring achievement, and Education Week ranked Kentucky 10th in its latest Quality Counts report. This was good progress, but making sure the improvement continues is becoming more and more of a challenge. 

What made the difference for Kentucky over the years? Contributing significantly to the success were the supports that students and teachers received through the Flexible Focus Funds Program
· Professional development which led to higher quality teaching
· Extended School Services to help students who were falling behind
· Pre-School to get kids off to strong start
· Funding for instructional materials like textbooks
· Allocations for Safe Schools 
· Family Resource and Youth Service Centers to help families in need (not part of the flex focus grants but a major support)
The flexible focus funds were an investment in the future of our children, and that investment paid dividends. Because of that, it would be logical to conclude that this funding would have priority status in Kentucky's budget. The painful reality, however, is that these funds have been slowly dissolving to the point where we are risking our children's future because of the educational backsliding that will inevitably be the result. We made this point in recent testimony before a legislative committee. 

In my post Enough is Enough, I wrote of the gathering clouds that will create the perfect storm of failure for our schools. Three of the most ominous clouds are: 
1. The sequester resulting from federal budget cuts
2. State budget cuts
3. Fear at the local level
We simply cannot continue to make the kind of progress Kentucky must have unless we make the necessary investments to support our students and teachers. As one of my colleagues noted recently, we are like an airplane that has been flying straight up and has now run out of fuel. We have built positive momentum, but we're about to take a nose dive. I'm very proud of the progress Kentucky has made, but I'm also ashamed that we are failing to do the right thing right now to support our children's future. In Kentucky - and across the nation - it's time to let legislators and other policy leaders know that we cannot - and must not - wait any longer to invest in our kids.


Anonymous said...

Folks, the problem is we don't have any significant extra funds according to our legislators. We have been underfunded for years in retirement, health care benefits, etc. Education is just starting to feel the same pinch. Face it, we live in a poor state - as a result we have the historically low academic achievement to prove it.

We all bought into the idea that educators could overcome and improve the living standards that exist. But with the exception of the Golden triangle and a few other isolated urban areas the state is no better off even with our efforts.

Without external investment and forward thinking, creative leadership in Frankfort we will continue down this path where the best we can do is give kids a chance at the opportunities that exist in other states - no different than their grandparents who flocked to bluecollar opportunities in Ohio, Detroit and Pittsburg.

We pat our ourselves on our backs for a few point increases on some standardized national exam and think we are accomplishing something but the reality is we haven't created any opportunities beyond the schoolhouse. Stagnant population growth, stagnant economic growth and stagnant educational investment - doesn't take a high ACT or KPREP score to know where that leads.

Anonymous said...

KERA was well intended and did make the playing field somewhat more level but even that initiative didn't truly equalize funding. We all realize that throughout the post KERA era and even more so today, that more affluent communities are always going to have a leg up on poorer counties and districts. Doesn't matter if you are talking formalized channels like local taxes or informal means via parental support of student learning through individual contributions toward school initiatives which advance their children. No offense intended to either district or their educators, but do we really believe that Oldham County and Owsley County are or ever were equal just because they have the same per pupil SEEK allotment?

Same as always, the poor districts are the ones who are going to suffer the most with federal sequestor dollars drawing down and continued state SEEK/Flex Fund reductions. Which of the two forementioned counties is going to be able to garner the most with a 4% local increase to try to cover some of the difference?

We are already moving backwards now, we just aren't going to meassure the loss until the end of the year.. and the following year and the following year.