While it remains to be seen how the Kentucky General Assembly will respond to Governor Bevin’s vetoes of their budget and revenue bills, the budget they passed does not represent forward progress for P-12 education. This is especially clear when considering how past budget cuts are already hurting classrooms and kids.
The initial education budget proposed by the Governor recommended no increase in base SEEK funding and very deep cuts to other education funding strands that would have had a significant negative impact on school districts. HB 200 reduces the overall cuts proposed by the Governor and provides a modest increase in base SEEK funding – the state’s core formula funding for students – and a few other areas. However, these small boosts do not come close to getting the state back to where it was before the Great Recession, and there are still significant cuts to important remaining SEEK and other funding streams in the budget.
Insufficient new resources in some areas and direct cuts in others come on top of deep cuts over the last decade that – according to our 2017 survey of school districts – have led to “fewer course offerings, reductions in school-based services, fewer staff, employee compensation cuts, costs being passed along to parents, fewer instructional days and more.”
Base SEEK and Transportation Funding
Although HB 200 increases the per pupil funding amount for the base SEEK formula to $4,000 in 2019 and 2020 – $19 more per student than in 2018 — state funding for this component of the SEEK formula is $1.7 million less in 2020 than it is for the current year. This is in large part due to growth of the real property assessment base, which increases the capacity of local school districts to raise revenue toward the guaranteed SEEK base. As a result of local districts raising more revenue, the state will pay less in 2020, perpetuating the historical shift in responsibility for education funding from the state to local school districts.
Officials sometimes point to base per-pupil funding as evidence of their support for education. Specifically, we often hear that lawmakers have protected it from direct cuts in recent budgets and, in the case of HB 200, that the $19 per pupil increase funds education at “historically high levels.” But this does not accurately portray education funding on the whole. First of all, these statements do not reflect how inflation impacts the value of these funding levels. Further, there are many funding streams outside of the base SEEK appropriation that have taken deep cuts over the last decade, and these cuts have had a lasting impact.
State investment in transportation is one such funding stream. HB 200 cuts transportation funding by $10,776,700 in both years of the upcoming biennium compared to 2018. Funding in 2018 was increased by the 2017 General Assembly using surplus resources in the base SEEK appropriation for 2016-17, but HB 200 moves backwards by funding transportation at the original levels included in the 2016-18 biennial budget. By statute, the state is required to pay the full estimated cost for student transportation as determined by a statutory formula considering several factors, which then flows into the SEEK allocation. However, beginning in the late 2000s the state stopped fully funding this component, leaving districts to pick up the slack with local funds. Currently, the state is only covering 59 percent of the estimated cost of transporting Kentucky kids to and from school.
When inflation and number of students are taken into account, funding included in the SEEK budget unit (comprised of the guaranteed base, transportation, Tier I, teachers’ retirement system employer match and other costs) in HB 200 actually represents a 16 percent cut between 2008 and 2020.
Funding Increases in a Few Areas
HB 200 does provide some additional funding in key areas that have suffered from cuts and reduced appropriations in the past. Among the areas receiving more funding in HB 200 are Family and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs), which receive funding in both the Education and Health and Family Services budgets. When appropriations within the two areas are combined, the FRYSCs will receive $6.6 million more in both years of the biennium than they received in 2018. The Safe Schools program will receive an additional $3 million in each year of the biennium, and the amount appropriated to cover AP and IB exam fees is increased by $1 million in each year of the biennium. In addition, the budget provides special one-time assistance totaling $10 million in coal severance funds in 2019 to 31 school districts impacted by a reduction in unmined minerals tax.
While this additional funding is helpful to these areas, funding for FRYSCs was down 14 percent from inflation-adjusted 2008 levels going into this budget and funding for Safe Schools was down 15 percent. Grant support is provided to those struggling coal county districts in the first year of the budget, but there is no reason to think the affected local economies will have recovered by the second year.
Funding Eliminated in Already-Weakened Areas
HB 200 completely eliminates funding for teacher professional development and textbooks/instructional materials, which had already been cut by an inflation-adjusted 32 percent and 34 percent respectively since 2008. Even before this budget Kentucky school districts were struggling to provide the supports necessary for a high-quality education in classrooms across the state. For example, a common theme in our survey of superintendents was that they faced difficulty buying basic instructional resources including textbooks, with some schools beginning to charge or increasing “student fees” or “supply fees.” Many districts also identified the reduction in professional development opportunities for staff as a big challenge resulting from budget cuts.
Other programs for which no funding was provided in the new budget include the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund, the Leadership and Mentor Fund, the Middle School Academic Center, the Teacher’s Professional Growth Fund, the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program, the Teacher Academies Program and the Writing Program. Many of these programs provide teacher learning opportunities, and their defunding along with professional development reflect a disinvestment in the quality of education that teachers are able to provide to students across the state.
Already-Diminished Services Cut Further in New Budget
Other critical school services already diminished after a decade of cuts face additional cuts under HB 200.
Student Support Programs
Funding for Extended School Services, which is cut by 6.25 percent in HB 200, had already been cut by an inflation-adjusted 32 percent between 2008 and 2018. Local districts simply aren’t able to make up for these cuts with local revenue. In our survey of the impact of funding cuts since 2008 on school districts, 42 percent of surveyed districts reported they had already reduced student supports such as after school, summer school and intervention/enrichment services. The additional cuts to extended school services – critical to the success of students, especially those who are struggling – will worsen this problem.
The state’s preschool program is also cut by 6.25 percent in HB 200. Already, just 40 percent of school districts have full-day preschool 4 or 5 days a week. Full-day preschool has been shown to be more effective than half-day programs at promoting academic success. These additional cuts could result in more districts having to forego full-day for half day programs. The state only provides funding for half-day preschool and does not fund preschool transportation, placing greater obligations on local districts in an area where state funding is already well below the statutorily required amount.
Funding Levels Continue to Hurt Classrooms and Kids
As noted in our survey report, funding freezes and cuts are hurting the state’s ability to provide a high quality education to every Kentucky child. The lack of funding has real impacts on the ability of schools to serve children, as described below. Inadequate funding in HB 200 will lead to more difficult choices for districts about how they balance their own budgets with fewer resources.
- Fewer staff:
- Since 2008, there are fewer teachers in Kentucky schools yet the number of students has increased. The ratio of students to full-time-equivalent teachers increased in 65 percent of districts between 2008 and 2017.
- In 2017, 75 percent of Kentucky school districts had fewer classified staff than they did in 2008, with nearly 40 percent of district experiencing more than a 10 percent decline; five had more than a 35 percent decline.
- Many Kentucky school districts also report having fewer instructional support staff and instructional aides.
- Teacher quality is threatened due to the ability to give raises.
- Fewer instructional days: 54 percent of surveyed districts have fewer days in the school calendar than in 2008.
- Limited Curricula:
- 35 percent of surveyed districts have already reduced or eliminated art and music programs.
- 30 percent have reduced the number of special course offerings such as world languages that were funded in 2008 as a result of reduced resources.
- Opportunities to expand or innovate are limited according to a number of Kentucky school districts participating in our survey.
Moreover, reduced state investment in education has impacted school districts unequally. Reduced state investment through round after round of budget cuts and appropriations that fail to keep pace with inflation has shifted more responsibility for funding to local school districts. As a result, the funding gap between what Kentucky’s wealthiest and poorest school districts spend per student is growing. That gap is made worse by the enactment of the pension bill, Senate Bill 151, which will require school districts to pick up nearly 1/3 of the cost of new teachers’ pensions. The equity gains Kentucky made through the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) in 1990 are being lost, and the new budget will only continue this trend. Inadequate, inequitable funding also limits the state’s ability to close demographic achievement gaps.
When considered as a whole, HB 200 does not move education in Kentucky forward in a way that will adequately support our schools and students. The positives included do not outweigh the failure to make up for years and years of cuts.