"We could shut the department down for three months
and not make $17 million."
--Ed Commissioner Stephen Pruitt
At its meeting in Frankfort today, the Kentucky Board of Education discussed impending budget cuts and how to best handle them.
Office of Administration and Support Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney told the board that at the governor’s direction, the state budget office has instructed the department to cut nearly $18 million dollars between now and June 30.
“As we consider the different budget categories, we look at three main areas: personnel, monies paid by the department on behalf of districts and payments to outside partners. The problem is that many of these funds already have been paid out,” Kinney said, “so the options on what and where to cut are limited.”
Board members voiced grave concern about the 4.5 percent reduction as well as the proposed 9 percent cuts in each year of the upcoming biennium as outlined in the governor’s proposed budget. The governor has said that the cuts are to shore up shortfalls in state pension funds, including the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System.
While the governor vowed not to cut basic SEEK funding, department staff indicated that more than 90 percent of the education budget is comprised of pass-through funds to districts for programs outside the SEEK formula. Less than 1 percent of the budget supports Frankfort-based operations.
Board members said they would like to see the preservation of funds to districts made a priority, and Commissioner Stephen Pruitt agreed, citing that has been the approach in prior years.
“The reality is though, if the reductions do come to pass, there will be cuts to districts in funds they are counting on,” Pruitt said.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said the Department of Education is facing significant cuts under Gov. Matt Bevin's proposed budget, with close to $72 million that could be cut in total, starting with more than $17 million in cuts this fiscal year alone.
Pruitt, during a visit toThe Courier-Journal on Tuesday, said he hopes to try to protect local districts as much as possible but that it was pretty much inevitable that some of the cuts would affect schools, saying that about 93 percent of the Department of Education's budget is pass-through funding."We could shut the department down for three months and not make $17 million," Pruitt said.Pruitt commended Bevin for holding base per-pupil school funding, known as SEEK, steady in his budget proposal. But he said that even doing that will leave school districts short under the proposal.Bevin last week proposed slashing funding to most state agencies by 9 percent in large part to help shore up funding for the state's pension funds shortfalls. He has proposed having agencies first make a 4.5 percent cut to their current year appropriation.Under his proposal, in 2016-17, the agencies will have to cut 9 percent from their current year appropriations (as they are now, before the 4.5 percent cut is applied). In 2017-2018, agencies would be held to the same reduced appropriation as the year before.Bevin's proposed budget includes line items that would cut preschool funding by about $4 million in 2016-2017 from current levels, would decrease textbook spending by about $750,000 and funding for family resource and youth service centers by more than $2.3 million in order to help achieve the proposed overall reduction.But Pruitt said Tuesday that the governor's office has told him it is open to discussions on how to handle the cuts."I'm trying not to make fast decisions that are knee-jerk," Pruitt said, adding that he is going through different portions of the budget to make sure he understands each allocation. Pruitt just took over as commissioner in October. "I want to always be able to say, 'We did this and here's why.'"Pruitt made a point to say that he wants to protect the Kentucky School for the Blind and Kentucky School for the Deaf, which he said do not get SEEK funds.He stressed that it Bevin's proposal for the next two years is just that and that the budget outlook may change as the legislature works through the budget."My biggest thing is trying to protect the districts," Pruitt said.