Yesterday the Bowling Green Daily News reported that state Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green was upset by the suggestion that legislators had broken their promise to the public schools by failing to maintain adequate funding necessary for the schools to achieve the goals mandated by the legislature under Senate Bill 1. Don’t “poke the bear,” he warned.
Of course, providing funding that is adequate for schools to reach legislatively imposed goals has been specifically identified by the Kentucky Supreme Court in Rose v Council for Better Education as one indispensable element of maintaining an efficient system of schools as required by the Kentucky Constitution.
Some lawmakers may have forgotten this lesson from 1989, but not Jody Richards who told the Daily News the resolutions passed by more than 60 school boards were just what the education community needs to be doing to raise the profile of the issue. “Those letters did not offend me at all. You are doing just what you need to do,” he said.
Perhaps Richards is recalling 1985, when he felt the same way as DeCesare, and pressured then Superintendent Steve Towler and the Warren County Board of Education to drop out of the Council for Better Education. The Council went on to win its landmark education case which has been cited more than 300 times by American courts for its ruling on school funding equity and adequacy.
“Everybody is looking for money. We get the message,” said state Senate Education Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.
Clearly, Wilson doesn’t get it. Not all budget requests are equal. When the state constitution mandates certain priorities, the public expects that they will take precedence. For example, as recently as 2006, State Historian Jim Klotter pointed out that Kentucky stood 14th nationally in highway spending and last in per capita education spending. Perhaps a little less for roads may have allowed more adequate funding for schools.
State Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, had different advice. “Why do you need the money? You need to boil it down to a 30-second sound bite,” he said!?
A sound bite? For whom? The public? Or the legislators?
As the Herald-Leader reported the legislature has been given much more information establishing the need than could be contained in a 30-second sound bite.
Last month, Stu Silberman, head of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and former Fayette superintendent, and Ali Wright, a teacher from Lexington's Lafayette High School, told lawmakers on a budget subcommittee what the cuts meant for schools. The duo — attending on behalf of the Kentucky Education Action Team, a group of state education associations — told lawmakers that no money had been allotted for hardback or online textbooks since 2010. Wright said hardback books in one of her classes, used by students who have a shot at attending the nation's top colleges, are falling apart.
The Kentucky School Boards Association recently enumerated issues from around the state related to School Safety (like the loss of school safety officers), Instruction (staffing cuts leading to larger classes, and in elementary schools split-grade classes), The Whole Child (like cuts to school counselors, nursing services, and drug counselors), Programs (like business and technology class cut, lost Spanish language teachers, and reduced music classes), Field Trips (districts forced to cut back or eliminate trips which especially benefit poor kids), After-school Programs (scaled back Extended school services and 21st century community learning centers), Extracurriculars (like districts cutting transportation for elementary, middle and JV athletic events, clubs, and academic meets), Teacher Support (the state’s TELL survey revealed that many teachers feel unsupported due to lost academic coaches, computer lab assistants, curriculum specialists, and professional development opportunities), and Technology (funds limited to licensing fees and maintenance, thus keeping districts from updating 7-year old equipment with computers that can fully access the state’s CIITS system).
One wonders if our legislators are not hearing the information they need to make an informed decision, or if they’re just not listening.
DeCesare gives warning
He says local school officials should not anger
those who control state funding
A state lawmaker takes exception to local school boards approving resolutions that say Kentucky legislators have broken their pledge to fund public education, warning districts against angering the people who hold the purse strings for state education.
“I feel like I have been thrown under the bus,” said state Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, during a meeting Wednesday between lawmakers and members of the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative.
GRREC, based in Bowling Green, represents 37 public school districts across southcentral Kentucky. DeCesare attends monthly GRREC meetings and sits on the state House Education Committee.
DeCesare was referring to resolutions approved by more than 60 school boards across Kentucky, including the Warren County, Bowling Green Independent and Simpson County boards of education. It is “disingenuous” to say that lawmakers have broken the education pledge, he said.
“I’m not mad; I’m just upset,” DeCesare told GRREC members. He cautioned school superintendents that if they want increased funding for public education, they shouldn’t “poke the bear” and make lawmakers angry. “I don’t have a problem with the message in the resolution – I get it. I have a problem with the way it is being delivered.”
Public education funding is expected to be a hot topic when the Kentucky General Assembly convenes in January. The preparation of the state’s biennial budget will be the lawmakers’ major task as they divide just under $20 billion, 45 percent of which goes to public education. Another 55 percent funds everything else, including postsecondary education.
The Kentucky Board of Education and several education associations want education funding restored to 2009 levels. For example, the state board wants the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, or SEEK, funding increased from $3,827 per student to $3,866 per student, according to Tommy Floyd, chief of staff of the Kentucky Department of Education.
“It is time to reinvest in our school districts,” Floyd said.
“Everybody is looking for money. We get the message,” said state Senate Education Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green. Like DeCesare, Wilson thought the resolutions were counterproductive. Wilson said lawmakers are looking for $300 million to $325 million over the biennium to tackle the education needs. While tax reform is being discussed, Wilson said that juggernaut probably won’t be tackled until the following legislative session.
Wilson would like to see Kentucky residents qualify for some of the 122,000 computer programmer jobs available each year in the United States. Only 45,000 can be produced by the educational system in the U.S., and many of the jobs are going to immigrants. If not computer programmers, Kentucky residents can qualify for welding jobs that pay $40,000 to $60,000 a year, Wilson said.
DeCesare and Wilson were among several lawmakers in southcentral Kentucky who listened to representatives of school superintendents, school boards and the Kentucky Board of Education outline legislative priorities during the GRREC meeting.
“Why do you need the money? You need to boil it down to a 30-second sound bite,” said state Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, who represents Allen, Barren, Edmonson, Green, Metcalfe and Simpson counties.
State Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said the resolutions were just what the education community needs to be doing to raise the profile of the issue.
“Those letters did not offend me at all. You are doing just what you need to do,” he said.
“The budget issues are not overwhelming, but formidable,” said state Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville...