Friday, December 18, 2009

Budget Facts and Effects

At a recent Kentucky Board of Education meeting, we had a presentation from Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Rather than take a position concerning the presentation, I thought some of the facts were very interesting and should be part of any future budget discussions.

Corrections Spending in Kentucky
· Spending has seen 44 percent increase since 2000, as compared to 33 percent increase in General Fund.
· It costs $19,000 per year to incarcerate a prisoner and only $9,200 a year to educate a child in P-12.
· Could we not save money on corrections by reducing our dropout rates and investing in early childhood education?

Medicaid Spending in Kentucky
· Medicaid budget is growing twice as fast as the General Fund budget.
· Medicaid enrollment increase is three times the predicted and budgeted amount.
· There will be a significant decrease in federal funding support for Medicaid in FY11.
· Medicaid moved from 6.5 percent of the state budget to the current 13.7 percent.
· Is there not a correlation that better-educated citizenry has better health?

Public Employee Health Care
· Increasing five times faster than General Fund budget (174 percent increase, compared to 33 percent General Fund increase since 2000).
· Health care for public employees currently comprises 12 percent of the state budget and 16 percent of the P-12 education budget.
· Health care costs are 17.2 percent of salary for public employees, compared to 10.8 percent for private companies’ employees.

I don’t envy the General Assembly as the members reconvene to deal with budget issues. These are difficult times that will require lots of collaboration and consideration of many ideas for improving efficiency and effectiveness of all programs.

I asked today if we thought Santa would drop a sack of dollars for Kentucky into the General Fund, and I am afraid that the answer will probably be “no.” However, no matter the funding, we must educate our children and ensure their future.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A New Direction for the Kentucky Board of Education

The Kentucky Board of Education meeting this week signaled a new direction for the board’s meetings. The agenda items at the meeting were a comprehensive set of strategies that will eventually lead to regulatory and possibly statutory changes to implement Senate Bill 1.

The board acted on major recommendations from a recent Office of Education Accountability study of mathematics programs in schools in the Commonwealth. A key requirement will be common course codes for core subjects. This is related to Senate Bill 1, since the Common Core Standards (an initiative of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association) will drive the need to have common course codes at the high school level. Algebra I in Paducah must be the same as Algebra I in Pikeville. While we would certainly want local teachers to set instructional materials, pacing and length of course and define instruction, we must assure parents and students that our mathematics courses and standards will adequately prepare all high school graduates to be successful in college and career.

Another key strategy is changing the definition for measuring high school graduation rates. The board approved regulatory changes that will allow use of a more standard graduation rate, which allows districts to disaggregate rates by ethnicity and gender. Kentucky will not be able to implement the national graduation rate, called a cohort graduation rate, which follows individual students from the 9th grade to graduation, until 2013-14; however, until that time, we must focus on preparing ALL children to graduate with the skills needed for college and career.

These are very exciting times in Kentucky. With the Race to the Top application and Senate Bill 1 deployment, the Kentucky Board of Education is very focused on a comprehensive system of improvement. Also, with Governor Steve Beshear’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force set to begin work in January, 2010 should be a very interesting year for education. What excites me more than anything are the great teachers, principals and school staff that I see during visits to schools each week. In spite of budget cuts and challenging local situations, these folks are dedicated to helping every child be successful.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kentucky's budget situation

In most of my speeches, I frequently make a comment about the current budget situation. The comment is usually this – “We adults made this mess, and we should not balance the budget on the backs of our children.” Sounds good on the podium; however, in reality, we are having a very difficult time making the statement one of fact.

In my 38 years of education and over 20 years as an administrator in charge of budgets, the past two years have been the most difficult budget situations I have ever encountered. As I travel across the state, I am hearing from local superintendents that they, too, are encountering very difficult budget situations. While the national economy has shown some signs of recovery, state and local revenues have not shown similar signs. Even more difficult are the budgets of families where one or more of the parents is out of work. In my travels, I see closed-up store fronts, vacant mills and signs of a struggling economy. Every night on the news, you hear more and more stories of families struggling due to the current economic crisis.

However, when I visit schools, I see signs of hope. I see teachers and communities who are working to ensure that the children have what they need in the classroom. I am seeing innovative methods of local superintendents and principals in dealing with budget shortfalls. I am seeing local boards of education who have voted to provide funding for schools in face of difficult local economic situations.

As Commissioner of Education, I have been asked to prepare a plan to deal with a projected state shortfall. The share of the budget shortfall that education has been asked to reduce is $20 million. This is the latest reduction of six that have happened in the past two years. We have made the easy reductions. We have reduced the travel, the professional development, the textbooks, the costs that are not closely associated with the classroom. We have frozen all hiring at the Kentucky Department of Education. We have not filled vacant positions. We have eliminated every discretionary dollar that we can find.

Now, we have run out of options. We must begin to reduce some program dollars. There are no easy choices. Every program that we are reviewing has a strong constituent base that truly believes any budget cut would decimate the program.

We have established a few priorities for this next round of reductions. We are attempting to save positions in schools and districts. We are trying not to further reduce school safety or extended school funds, which have already been greatly reduced. We are looking at dollars that have not yet been expended in programs so the reductions will not require districts to make up the difference. A mid-year 6 percent reduction is really a 12 percent reduction, so we know that whatever we do will have a negative impact on programs.

As commissioner, I will continue to work to find other ways to come up with $20 million. I also will continue to look for funding sources to replace these budget reductions. We are working hard to obtain federal Race to the Top grant funding and funding from philanthropic sources.

While we are in difficult times, I have every belief that our great nation can recover and our state and national leaders will find ways to ignite new growth in our economy. During these times, we must listen and work with each other rather than blame each other. As always, we are open to suggestions on how to reduce operating costs. Final decisions will not be made until early January. Thanks for reading!!