Sunday, January 31, 2016

Higher education is more than just ‘workforce development’

Bevin budget remark indicates his view of higher education’s value too narrow

State investment in the arts, humanities also important for economic development

Kentucky had one of nation’s great universities 200 years ago, then destroyed it
This from Tom Eblen in the Herald-Leader:

Read more here:

Was Gov. Bevin trying to bully reporters?

An interesting (or disturbing) piece from a veteran Kentucky political reporter...

This from Ronnie Ellis in the Daily Independent:
Reporters aren’t at the top of Gov. Matt Bevin’s Christmas card list.

Nothing unusual about politicians who think life would be simpler without troublesome reporters.  But most don’t go out of their way to poke the bear in the eye.

As Bevin sat down with reporters Tuesday afternoon for an embargoed preview of the budget he was to present to lawmakers, he first lectured us.

“And I’ll tell you this,” Bevin began. “We’re at the front end of the four years of working with each other and a lot of what that looks like and how it works will be determined by each of you.

“I’ll be very honest before we even start,” Bevin continued. “The amount of ink and time and energy that has been spent on rumors and - idiocy, frankly - is remarkable to me. And you’re better than that. You truly are.

“And it’s going to be a long four years if this is the kind of thing that we see more of,” said Bevin before launching into the budget preview.

Bevin is a very good politician — he can charm the socks off people, especially in small groups. He succeeds with larger audiences, too, because he’s a truly extraordinary public speaker.

“But truth be told,” to use one of his overused — and some would say ironic — phrases, Bevin isn’t very good with reporters.

As I listened Tuesday, I thought about the irony of a lecture on “professionalism” from someone whose ever-changing accounts of past actions and statements during the campaign created legitimate credibility problems with reporters.

During Bevin’s 2014 U.S. Senate primary challenge to Mitch McConnell, Bevin was caught off guard by the revelation of his letter to investors touting the advantages of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP - the “bank bailout”).

To my astonishment, Bevin explained the letter by telling me his signature was a “formality,” and didn’t mean anything and he didn’t even know what was in the letter he’d sent out to the people who trusted him with their life savings.  I resolved on the spot never to accept his personal check.

Tuesday I also wondered if Bevin has heard the cliché about arguing with people who buy ink by the barrel. Then, considering how Bevin sometimes cites his Christianity, I thought of the biblical admonishment:  “ . . . first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

I concluded Bevin was doing what a lot of politicians and others covered by the press sometimes do: he was threatening our access, trying to intimidate us.

There is hardly a more sure way to ensure just the opposite — at least when dealing with professional and self-respecting journalists.

I realize most politicians — and much of the public — do not believe it, but most reporters operate under the romantic notion that we’re there asking those unpleasant questions on behalf of our readers or viewers and the public.

That’s why we ask questions, sometimes even about swirling (and inaccurate) rumors concerning a governor’s plan to defund an arts council. Bevin could have put an immediate end to those rumors and the reporting on them if he’d simply answered the original question by saying, no, he wasn’t defunding the Kentucky Arts Council.

The reporters asking that and other questions were attempting to inform the public and the taxpayers whose money funds the state budget. They weren’t trying to “ambush” or play “gotcha” with a new governor.

No, Governor, we reporters ARE better than that. And you should be too.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bevin's budget would cut faculty, shift more cost to Kentucky Students

Report to the EKU Faculty Senate

Last Tuesday night in his budget address before the General Assembly, Gov. Matt Bevin chose to not mention tax reform. In the midst of other bad news, it seems to me this omission was perhaps the worst news of all. Without a modernized tax code – one that closes existing loopholes and broadens the state’s revenue base - the state is going to be forced to cut more and more programs for the foreseeable future. Services to Kentuckians shrink along with the size of the government. If this is going to be the new normal it is hard for me to imagine a bright future for far too many Kentucky students. Some can afford college today, but may not be able to tomorrow. Instead of building a foundation for a stronger economy, as President Benson noted, the governor’s proposed budget is only “addressing the collateral symptoms and outcomes of systemic problems.” 

The governor’s comments about higher education were telling and seemed to expose a vocational mindset - one that views higher education as an individual good only, and not a common good that benefits the state and our economy as a whole. This kind of thinking would seem to discount the liberal arts, and the economic benefits derived from an educated citizenry, while signaling a narrow view of higher education as little more than a jobs program. In a conference call with university presidents last week, Bevin stated that, “access to education is a privilege, and not a right,* and the cost to educate our citizens must fall to those who benefit, from those who consume it – students.”

I cannot predict with any specificity what will happen to tuition at EKU or what percentage of our students will be unable to stay in school under the governor’s budget. But we are all aware of a number of students who are taking out loans while working many hours, and just barely scraping together enough money to attend school as it is. 

To me, it feels like equity is about to take a big hit, and the work of being a school of opportunity is about to get even harder. At the same time, the university cannot sacrifice quality, so tuition is sure to rise. Them that's got shall have, them that's not shall lose.

You may have heard about performance measures as a new way of looking at higher ed funding. This has been under discussion for several years but only as an incentive for a relatively small percentage of the budget. But under Governor Bevin’s plan the entire budget could be performance-based. That necessitates a fair and reasonable set of metrics. But there are indications that the governor’s office might choose to dictate the metrics. Given the governor’s view of the purpose of higher education, this possibility should be troubling to all who value the liberal arts. 

Of more immediate concern to the campus, the governor’s budget calls for a 4.5% cut to higher education during the current semester** followed by a 9% cut over the next 30 months. It is not my desire to alarm anyone. But neither do I want to sugar coat what I believe to be the realities of the situation. With ~85% of the university budget comprised of personnel, people and programs are surely in jeopardy.

I think back a few years to the strategic reallocation. That was an effort to sequester ten percent of the budget and I believe most folks found the process difficult. We did not lose those funds, but rather shifted them into new areas that have allowed us to improve faculty salaries among other things. But the current nine percent cut is a not a reallocation; it is lost revenue. Our plans for continued faculty salary increases will be stymied under this plan.

In the short term university administrators will have to conduct a thorough review of the budget. And we should all do what we can to save money. President Benson has hit the brakes on planned increases to Athletics spending. After the General Assembly acts and there is a better understanding of our situation there will be opportunities for faculty input. I encourage the faculty to work closely with the administration to identify any areas of excess in the budget with the hope of preserving to the greatest extent our most important resource – a highly skilled faculty working for the benefit of our students. 

*This is a reference to Rose v Council for Better Education (790 S.W.2d 186, 60 Ed. Law Rep. 1289 (1989)) where the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that K-12 education was a fundamental right under the constitution – a status not enjoyed by higher education.
** Speaker Greg Stumbo disputes the Governor's ability to make cuts in the current budget without the approval of the General Assembly:

KSN&C readers are reminded that while I currently serve as Chair of the EKU Faculty Senate, the comments made here are my own and do not reflect any actions taken by the Senate nor the opinions of any of its members. As always, all comments made on KSN&C are attributable only to the author.

This from WKYT:
The presidents of eight state funded Kentucky universities spoke to Governor Matt Bevin in a conference call Wednesday morning to discuss budget cuts to education.

On Tuesday Bevin released his budget plan for the next two years. It includes budget cuts for almost all state agencies, including money going to state universities.

"There are significant fiscal challenges that the governor and our state are facing and he spoke with great passion last night about the serious challenge that exists with pensions in our system with both teachers and workers," said Jay Blanton, spokesperson for the University of Kentucky.

The conference call focused on the proposed cuts and Bevin's plan to implement performance based funding for universities. That move would mean the funding provided to state universities from the general fund would be distributed based on performance criteria. The governor says that criteria will be developed in collaboration with university leadership.

"They didn't get into a lot of detail," Blanton said. "He was very open and cordial about the idea that he wants input and feedback and he wants the presidents to engage with him and his administration about what he wants a performance funding model to look like."
The cut in funding has led students and their families to wonder if that decrease in funding for universities could lead to an increase in the cost of tuition.

"I would say nothing is on or off the table right now," Blanton said. "We've got to assess everything, we're not looking to absorb cuts by disproportionately placing it on student and their families."
A sentiment students agree with.

"Bogging down students ability to pay for tuition, causing obstacles, it really gets in the way of, like, getting the general education purpose of coming to college to learn," said Marvin Anderson, a student from Radcliffe.

At UK those cuts mean a $12.6 million cut between now and June 30, with more to follow.

Below are letters from Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson and University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto in response to the proposed budget cuts.

Undoubtedly you have all read or heard about Governor Bevin’s budget presentation made last evening to the General Assembly.  I was there with my fellow university presidents and all eight of us held a conference call this morning with the Governor and members of his staff. The bill on our State’s pension crisis has come due, and the Governor stressed repeatedly last evening that he will not borrow to get Kentucky out of this hole. In short, he intends to direct $1.1 billion to the pension system without raising taxes. 
What the Governor presented will certainly pose challenges to us, both in the short and long term.  Our acute and most pressing task is to carve 4.5% out of our current budget mid-year in this fiscal cycle.  Moving forward, we must carve out 9% out of our budget over the next 30 months.  This 9% is off our total baseline as currently appropriated; our annual state appropriation is approximately $68 million.  By 2020 ALL of our state appropriation will be subject to performance funding metrics, and these standards will be developed over the next several months and applied over the next two biennia.
While the Governor chose to exempt several state agencies from the $650 million in reductions, unfortunately higher education was not one of them.  Governor Bevin outlined a whole host of agencies and initiatives to fund and all of them are commendable (e.g., increased pay for police officers and other public safety personnel, reduction in caseloads for social workers, additional resources for prosecutors, and no cuts to Medicaid, etc.). We applaud him for protecting the most vulnerable in our population. 
Nevertheless, my fundamental reservation with this approach is that we are addressing the collateral symptoms and outcomes of systemic problems. Education, on the other hand, is an investment that treats root causes. In the triage of treatment for our Commonwealth’s ills, higher education is paramount, and I can promise you that our lobbying efforts in support of EKU will continue unabated and undeterred. But, as always, we cannot make this case alone – we need your help.
When one considers that public higher education will receive $231 million less in 2018 than we did in 2008 (a 35% reduction), our ranking as the 11th-worst in per-student cuts in America is a brutal reality.
The Governor expressed support of increased latitude for higher education institutions with tuition and fees to help address some of the budgetary shortfalls we will soon face.  Governor Bevin reiterated his own belief in our call today that access to education is a privilege, and not a right, and the cost to educate our citizens must fall to those who benefit from those who consume it – students.  He used his own experience as an Asian Studies major at Washington and Lee University as an example.  The challenge with increased tuition is that it, perforce, reduces the number of scholarship dollars we can provide to qualified students, thus choking off access to education.  This is one of my gravest concerns. 
While we might have fundamental differences on the societal benefits of liberal arts education for all those who might want it, just as Speaker Stumbo said last night, the budget and the state are Governor Bevin’s to manage and lead; he is the chief executive.  The Governor is willing to continue conversations with all of us, and our group of presidents is planning another conference call next week.
In the midst of the inevitable cuts we must make to our ongoing budget, there are projects funded through other sources that will soon launch.  These will move inexorably forward.  Among these are our Public-Private Partnerships for new residence halls and other campus infrastructure improvements.  The Governor did not include ANY state-funded capital projects in his budget, nor were agency bond projects listed. He did tell us this morning, however, that we can make the argument for our respective priorities, and he and his staff will consider them on a case-by-case basis.  Our agency bond request was $93 million and this remains our top priority.  Funding for state-supported capital projects includes appropriations for our Aviation Program and a new Model Lab School.
Our roots as an educational institution date back to 1874, and Eastern has faced dire funding and other crises in the past.  Rest assured that we will survive this recent challenge and emerge more united in our fundamental commitment to providing the very best educational experience to anyone who may want to access it.
Thank you for all you do for Eastern.  To paraphrase the poet Samuel Johnson, the spectre of the gallows has a unique way of focusing one’s mind.  This situation is a sort of financial gallows for us and will require our best and most focused thinking and effort both individually and collectively.
All of us together, in concert with our administrative and academic team and our Board of Regents, pledge to do whatever it takes to help EKU navigate successfully the challenging times ahead. We will also keep you updated as the legislative session unfolds.
Yours sincerely,
Michael T. Benson

    Dear Campus Community,

    Governor Matt Bevin last night presented his proposed budget for the remainder of this fiscal year, ending June 30, and for the next two years. It now goes to the state House and Senate for review.

    It was an important step in the process of developing a budget for the Commonwealth and for funding much of the instruction, teaching and service that we do at the University of Kentucky. It is essential that all of us understand the details of the Governor’s proposal and the next steps in the process.

    I assure you that we will not allow changes in state support to stall the momentum you have created for our students, our patients, and our state. Guided by our Strategic Plan and collective commitment, we will continue to move forward aggressively to achieve our goals: providing the best education for our students, conducting research and care that meets the needs of our state, and extending service that changes lives and transforms communities.

    There are two main elements to the proposed budget:

    First, the Governor announced plans to implement through an executive order a mid-year reduction in budgets for most areas of state government, including universities. Between now and June 30 of this year, our current state appropriation will be reduced by $12.6 million (4.5 percent). I have instructed Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Eric N. Monday and Provost Tim Tracy to begin immediately working with their teams on how to address this reduction. As always, we will proceed thoughtfully and with wide consultation with campus stakeholders to protect our core teaching, research, and service missions.

    Second, in the first year of the new two-year budget cycle starting July 1, the Governor's budget proposes a cut of $25.2 million to our state appropriation. To put into context, this year we were scheduled to receive an appropriation from the state of $279.6 million. The budget, if enacted for next year, proposes lowering that appropriation to about $254.4 million - a 9 percent reduction. The following year, 2017-2018, our base will be reduced to $169.7 million and the remaining one-third ($84 million of the $254 million) would be placed in a pool of dollars that would be allocated across universities based on performance. As details of the method of allocation become clearer, we will keep you informed.

    Certainly, the magnitude of reductions in the Governor’s budget proposal presents significant challenges to our University. We will work through them in consultation with you.

    We have essential work to do and a powerful story to tell. In the last five years, we've improved graduation rates and expanded affordable access for Kentucky families to the best education in our state. We're conducting ground-breaking research that directly addresses the challenges we face. We've extended health and wellness care to more patients and people throughout our state than ever before.

    We will thoughtfully and respectfully tell our story in the coming months in the General Assembly. We will work in a spirit of cooperation with the Governor and legislators to make clear our needs. But we must acknowledge the fiscal realities of our state. And I applaud the Governor for working to protect other essential services, including social workers and law enforcement officers.

    We will not trim our aspirations. But we do have to find more creative ways to power our progress. That will take all of us.

    In the coming days, weeks and months, I will be communicating with you often, as there are developments. I pledge to you to be straightforward and transparent as we work together to continue our progress -- ensuring the promise of this place for those we serve.

Thank you.

Eli Capilouto
University of Kentucky

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Prevailing wage repeal a mistake

In response to Sen. Wil Schroder’s article in support of his advocacy of the Senate Bill 9 which would repeal the prevailing wage for the construction workers on Kentucky School Projects. In an era of funding shortfalls, it is understandable to consider areas to cut costs. However, in this situation repealing the prevailing wage for construction workers would negatively impact their families who sent their children to Kentucky’s public schools.

Paul Whalen
Prevailing is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority or average of workers, laborers and mechanics within a particular geographic area. The prevailing wage promotes and encourages a skilled work force on our public buildings. This brings up the question of whether Kentucky wants lesser skilled craftspeople to build our children’s schools.

It should be noted that there are also other professionals who work on school construction projects. These professionals include architectural and engineering firms who can earn from 4 percent to 15 percent of the total cost of the construction of the project. It should be noted that owners of construction management firms and/or prime contractors usually make profits in excess 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of the building.

I am not advocating cutting fees for architectural and engineering firms or profits for contractors. However, if Senator Schroder and his Republican colleagues are going to cut wages for the construction workers; then fundamental fairness requires that all fees and profits related to school construction should be cut by statute.

With the majority of Kentuckians supporting raising the minimum wage, one wonders why Kentucky Republicans and Senator Schroder support repealing Kentucky’s prevailing wage law. This law would negatively impact over 75,000 Kentucky construction workers and their families. Data indicates that construction workers in states that have repealed the prevailing wage make 22 to 25 percent less on average than construction workers who work in states with a prevailing wage.
In studies of states where the prevailing wage was repealed, in addition to lower wages for construction workers there was this impact:
1. Loss of substantial state income and sales tax revenues;
2. Skilled construction workers left these states and there was a shift to a less-skilled and educated construction labor force;
3. Cost overruns on state road construction tripled in the decade following repeal, due in part to diminished skill of the labor force;
4. Occupational injuries in construction rose by 15 percent in states which repealed prevailing wage laws; and
5. Construction training dropped by 40 percent in the states which repealed prevailing wage laws.
Unfortunately, Kentucky is already a state where in many regions where wages are lower than the rest of the United States. Repealing Kentucky’s prevailing wage laws are going to drive wages and incomes even lower for many Kentuckians.

There are other ways to save money in government. Repealing the prevailing wage is not one of those ways. In fact, repealing the prevailing wage could cost the commonwealth more in the long run.

It should be noted that states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Kansas are states without prevailing laws. All three of those states are having problems with financing education. Mississippi and Louisiana are states at the bottom of the economic and education ladder in the United States. Should Kentucky join them at the bottom of America’s education and economic ladder?

Paul L. Whalen is an attorney in Fort Thomas.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

State of K-12 Education in the Commonwealth

Kentucky to add standards around cursive writing?! 

Pruitt hits the pause button on social studies...while new science assessment delayed 

Refuses to comment on pending legislation

Last week Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt delivered a State of K-12 Education address at a press conference in Frankfort. Below is an outline of his presentation from KSBA.

One supposes the delays in fully implementing Science and Social Studies is political avoidance behavior. Politically, these catch the most opposition - from climate change deniers and to those who would remove Thomas Jefferson from U. S. History books. Perhaps the word came down from On High. How else might we explain why Pruitt, until recently the nation's lead science standards guy, is taking his foot off the gas.

But instead, apparently Kentucky will add 21st century standards for cursive writing, but not the critical skill of shoe lace tying.

This from Brad Hughes at KSBA:
In what is to become an annual event for him, Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt Thursday issued his inaugural State of K-12 Public Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, saying the status is “strong (because) Kentucky has had dedication to excellence in education for all and a willingness to embrace change when it really needed to.”

Employing aspects common to a governor’s State of the Commonwealth or a presidential State of the Union address, Pruitt acknowledged several invited guests as examples of some of more than a dozen areas where “we can be proud of our progress.” On the job since mid-October, he said he has done a lot of listening, and that the 50-page report is a “nice, neat package…of high points and low points (because) stakeholders have a right to know the facts.”

Among some of his comments during a 75-minute speech and media Q&A, the commissioner said he intends to take “every second” of the 18 months allotted under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act) to revise the current school accountability system; that new standards will be written to measure students’ skills in cursive writing and some high schoolers’ calculus mastery; and that his goal in streamlining the controversial PGES (Professional Growth and Effectiveness System) will be to craft a product that is “fair and equitable” while giving school and district leaders “good data” to assess classroom instruction.


Echoing remarks made earlier in the day to dozens of school board members and superintendents at KSBA’s LEAD (Legislative Education Advocacy Day) breakfast, Pruitt called the state public school system “a guiding light for the rest of the country because we care about our kids, and for 25 years, Kentucky has always chosen what’s right, not what’s easy.

“We have to ensure that every kid has an opportunity that, when they cross that stage (to receive a high school diploma), that they can make any choice that they want to in their lives, regardless of whether that’s to go to a university, to go to a technical college or to go into a career,” he said.
As measurements of progress, Pruitt touted several areas including:
      · High school graduation rate - 88 percent of the Class of 2015 graduated on time, placing Kentucky’s rate in the Top 10 nationally.

      · College and/or career readiness - 66.9 percent of graduates don’t need postsecondary remedial courses while others possess job skill certificates or high scores on a career path exam.
      · New college enrollees - Kentucky college freshmen are earning a higher grade point average, passing more courses and going on to at least a second year than before.
      · ACT scores - more gains than the nation as a whole over the past five years and leading Southern states using the ACT in terms of meeting a set of college preparedness benchmarks.
      · Advanced Placement - 35 percent more high schoolers are taking the more rigorous courses compared with five years ago, and more are earning high grades in those classes.
      · NAEP tests - students are outperforming the nation at most levels in reading, math and science in what is frequently called “the nation’s report card.
“For years, Kentucky ranked near the bottom of states in nearly every elementary and secondary education measurement. That’s no longer the case,” Pruitt said.

…and Challenges

Ed Commissioner Stephen Pruitt
The commissioner also offered a list of areas where improvements must be made, principally closing the achievement gap between all demographic student groups and raising middle school students’ mastery level in math.

While Pruitt declined to comment on Senate Bill 1 – a measure proposing massive changes in Kentucky’s Unbridled Spirit school assessment and accountability system – he reiterated several plans to update existing academic standards and added some new wrinkles:

      · The previous Kentucky Core Content Challenge focused on English/ Language Arts and math standards will continue while work on revisions is being done.

      · New science standards will be delayed from statewide use until at least the 2017-18 assessments, while a pilot project on those measures is completed.
      · New social studies standards are in a “pause button” mode, but will still be developed to cover government, civics and economics.
      · New standards will be crafted to gauge students’ cursive writing skills and calculus studies for some college-bound high school students.
      · Program reviews will be amended after a task force that Pruitt appointed completes its work.
      · The PGES process for teachers, principals and superintendents will be “streamlined” to address concerns about the amount of work time required in the current evaluation system, while ensuring that quality educator data isn’t lost.

Impact of new, proposed laws

Regardless of whether the 2016 General Assembly passes any new assessment and/or accountability laws, Pruitt said some change will be necessary under the “opportunity” being afforded to states when Congress recently passed the ESSA.

“For the first time, the feds have said it’s time for states to create their own accountability system. I need everybody to be prepared to step up to the plate and help design this system. It will not be designed here in this tower,” he said. “I want a dynamic system that says this is a good teaching environment.

“We need to always remember that change management means work. It can’t destroy the other work. No education innovation failed in the vision stage, only in the implementation change,” Pruitt said.
On funding to make all of his goals happen, the commissioner noted “the reality of where we are…in a tough budget situation.” He said he has been meeting with legislators to discuss K-12 issues and needs, and believes “they are going to do the best they can to make sure that our schools and our kids are taken care of.”

In the media question-and-answer session, Pruitt responded to questions about charter schools and Common Core standards. The entire address and the brief news conference may be viewed here. The written report may be accessed on the KDE website here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

What teachers Do All Day

This from the National Teachers Association via YouTube:


NEA President Lily Eskelson Garcia speaking.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Higher Destiny

"Let us all get involved and be creative dissenters 
who will call our nation to a higher destiny, 
to a new plateau of compassion, 
a more noble expression of humaneness."

Forde---paraphrasing M. L. King Jr

A Shout out to my colleague Dr. Timothy Forde, Director of African American Studies at EKU.

Dr. Forde spoke to WKYT yesterday on the subject of Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy. Tim challenges us to be dissatisfied with were we are as a nation today and calls for "enlarging...the whole society, and giving it a new sense of values. 

"Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism."

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Shelton, Superintendents back Repeal of Prevailing Wage for School Construction

Senate budget committee sets up bill repealing prevailing wage
for school construction for floor vote

This from cn/2 Pure Politics:
Legislation exempting public school projects from the state’s prevailing wage law cleared the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee in a 10-1 vote Tuesday.

Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Wil Schroder, is one of the GOP-controlled Senate’s priority bills in this year’s legislative session but faces an unlikely future if it reaches the Democrat-led House. Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, was the lone dissenting vote.

Schroder, noting that the state had previously exempted school projects from the prevailing wage law from 1982 to 1996, said the bill “would greatly save the commonwealth money.” He cited a study by the Legislative Research Commission that found labor costs in sampled school construction projects were 51 percent higher compared to private construction.

“While the study found that costs went up for labor, there was no indication that the quality of the construction was improving,” said Schroder, R-Wilder. “Schools are paying more for construction with absolutely no guarantee for better quality.

Tom Shelton, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, offered his personal experience with the state’s prevailing wage law, saying he worked at a school district that built three new elementary schools in 1997.

The projects were bid before and after the state re-enacted prevailing wage for school construction, he said.

“We saw a 34 percent hard-dollar increase in the cost, and on a $17 million project, you can see that that was over $5 million impact that we had to endure,” Shelton said.

State prevailing wages are base pay rates for contractors and subcontractors on public works projects set by the Kentucky Labor Cabinet.

Labor groups disputed much of Schroder’s and Shelton’s testimony, relying on a study by the University of Utah’s Peter Phillips that found estimated economic impact wasn’t as rosy as predicted by Schroder.

Bill Finn, state director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, said 51 percent savings could not be achieved by repealing the prevailing wage on school projects since wages and benefits total less than 21 percent of overall construction costs.

“There’s no way that you can save 51 percent of a construction project when only 21 percent makes up what the workers make,” Finn said. “No way.”

He added that other states that have eliminated prevailing wage requirements on school projects “saw no savings to taxpayers because quality, timeliness and availability of a skilled workforce suffered,” and changing those laws did not result in an increase in school construction.

A portion of the meeting turned personal.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, chairman of the budget committee, questioned the objectivity of the study cited by Finn and Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.

McDaniel, a Taylor Mill Republican who operates a concrete business in northern Kentucky, didn’t raise issues with the study’s findings, but rather an entire section that was dedicated to him personally. He called that portion of the study “fairly insulting.”

“It says Sen. McDaniel thinks this is not fair,” McDaniel said. “He thinks all blue-collar construction workers on public construction regardless of their training, regardless of their skills, regardless of the unemployment they must endure, regardless of the dangers on their job, regardless of the fact that their bodies will wear out long before most other workers should get paid no more than 70 percent of the average family income in this county. Does Sen. McDaniel believe that average income in his district is to good for construction workers and their families?

“That’s a pretty interesting academic statement for Dr. Phillips to make about me, my family, my company, how I provide for my children, how my father provided for me. I’m just interested, what kind of academic study is this?”

Londrigan and Finn said they understood McDaniel’s personal concerns with the study, but they defended Doctor Phillips’s research.

They also said the state had good reason to put school construction projects back under the prevailing wage umbrella in 1996.

“What really happened was we had less competition in the industry, and we had lower wages, and we had less quality, and that’s why in ’96 we went back to the drawing board and actually re-instituted this onto school and educational facilities, recognizing that it was better public policy for us to have a skilled supply of workers in this state to building buildings in a safe and efficient manner,” Londrigan said.

McDaniel disagreed with that line of thinking.

He also expressed his hopes that the state’s Democrat-led House of Representatives would consider the legislation. The Senate could take up the legislation in a floor vote this week, he said.

“We know the problems that we have in the teachers’ retirement system right now, which is funded through the SEEK formula, which is the same way that capital construction budgets, or a portion of capital construction budgets, are funded,” McDaniel said.

“I hope that the House will see the wisdom. If they want to invest in our educational system, this is a way to make a change in the law that will invest in that system and also invest in our ability to build more structures because of the savings that we’ll realize.”

Londrigan said he expects the bill will die in the House as it has in recent sessions.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A new year, a new day...and a little quibbling

As a sign of his steadfast commitment, even in an uncertain political climate, Commissioner Stephen Pruitt reaffirmed his pledge to work hard, use accurate information, hold high expectations for students, and act courageously to make decisions in the best interest of each and every Kentucky child. Quoting from the Rose case, he reminds us that “Each child, every child, in this Commonwealth must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education.” Music to my ears.

But to Pruitt, "adequate" does not set the bar high enough.

As one who must use his bully pulpit to speak to the public, the Commissioner is doubtlessly reacting to the lukewarm power of a word like "adequate." In common usage, adequate means "just enough." "Sufficient." Boring...and very average sounding. What Commissioner wants to go to the public with a message that says, "We are going to give your child an adequate education?" No wonder he wants to pump up the volume. But does he sacrifice accuracy to do so? 

Please allow me to quibble with him a bit...

In the courts, the question of adequacy is whether the state has supplied sufficient support for the entire system of schools to achieve the state's goals. In Rose, the Kentucky Supreme Court was focused on the system as a whole and interpreted those goals very broadly. It is that scope that makes state goals anything but average. It creates a very high standard, indeed.

Imagine a system of schools in Kentucky where the following was true:
  • Where no matter which Kentucky school a child attended, parents could be assured that their child would receive an education that allowed them to perform successfully in the 21st century.
  • Where equality was a key characteristic of every school, notwithstanding differences in family income...or anything else, for that matter.  
  • Where a high quality education was available to all Kentucky children.
  • Where every school was operated without waste, mismanagement or undue political influence.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed oral and written communication abilities that would enable them to function in a complex and changing society.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient knowledge to make informed economic, social, and political decisions.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient knowledge of governmental processes to be an effective citizen.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient self-knowledge to be healthy.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient grounding in the arts to ennoble their spirits and allow them to appreciate our common heritage.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient knowledge to successfully enter advanced academic or vocational training and pursue their life's work intelligently, and compete favorably against their peers from other states.
  • Where all Kentucky schools were substantially uniform. Not a system of good schools and bad schools, but a system where every school offered and delivered the kinds of opportunities we all wish every child had.
  • ...and the system of common schools was adequately funded to achieve these goals for each child, every child.
How much better off would Kentucky be if only we had an adequate system of common schools?

This from Stephen Pruitt in Commissioner's Comments:
It’s a new calendar year, a new day in Frankfort and a new day in Washington D.C., and I couldn’t be more excited. When the page on the calendar turns from December to January, I always get a sense of renewal, drive and enthusiasm for the future. The feeling is more acute in 2016 than I remember in a long time.

Part of the reason is that I am here in Kentucky. Nationally, the state has an excellent reputation for improving K-12 education and the prospect to build on that legacy is one of the main things that drew me to my new Kentucky home. I am eternally grateful to the Kentucky Board of Education for trusting me with the opportunity. I pledged to them as I do to you, to listen to all sides and make decisions in the best interest of children. As stated in the Supreme Court opinion in Rose v. Council for Better Education more than a quarter century ago, “Each child, every child, in this Commonwealth must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education.”

But to me, adequate, doesn’t set the bar high enough. My goal is to build on our accomplishments of the past 25 years to provide each child and every child with an equal opportunity to an excellent, world-class education that will lead them to success in their postsecondary endeavors, and in life. I believe, as do many among us, that education is the key to prosperity in Kentucky. It is the one thing with the potential to break the cycle of poverty that has plagued this state for far too many years.

With that said, it is a new day in Frankfort with a new governor, new administration and a new session of the General Assembly that in the next few months – hopefully with the education community’s input and expertise – will determine the course toward our goal. Lawmakers will approve a new biennial budget and are poised to consider a slew of education legislation.

It’s also a new day in Washington, D.C. with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, this time around known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. It provides us a greater opportunity to chart our own course for the future of education than any time in recent history.

In the coming weeks, as always, it is important that policy decisions are based on the facts of today. We must build on our successes with the goal of moving education forward. It is absolutely essential that we are honest with ourselves and with our children and that we continue to have high expectations for all.

We have some great opportunities ahead of us, some would call them challenges, but I see them in a more positive light. These opportunities have reignited a fire within me, and hopefully one within you to work hard, stand up for what is right for Kentucky’s kids and not take the easy way out, even if it is the more popular choice. This will take attention, accurate information, hard work, courage, compromise and understanding. I’m up for the task, are you?