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!!