Friday, March 19, 2010

Budget Should Reflect the Needs of Children

It is that time of year when the state budget process really kicks into high gear. The Governor proposed a budget, and the House passed a budget. Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court, and the expectation is that a conference committee will finalize the budget.

We must have a budget, and the reality of our current economic situation is that the budget will show less in expenditures than in previous years. As commissioner, I do not want ANY cuts to education; however, I know that we must be prepared for reductions in expenditures.

This week, I sent an update on the House budget to key stakeholders and a counter-proposal that I am working with on the Senate side as the members develop a budget.

My first priority is to protect the educational needs of children. Reducing instructional time through a loss of instructional days, either due to budget reductions or missed days for weather or other emergencies, is not in the best interest of children’s learning.

My second priority is to protect the resources needed to educate children. In the House budget, SEEK base funding was reduced by $34 million per year, which reflects the loss of two instructional days. As I understand the workings of SEEK, the dollars are distributed with a formula that helps provide equalization. If we implemented the House budget, then districts who receive more SEEK funding per pupil would have a greater reduction than those districts who receive less SEEK funding per pupil. This would create greater inequities among districts.

Also, my reading of the House budget indicates that the $29 million provided for facilities debt repayment really comes at the loss of instructional time. Plus, I have heard from many superintendents and stakeholders that the capital projects list seemed to not be based on previous critical needs lists.

I am very much against reducing instructional time and the following points show my logic.
· Reducing two instructional days puts Kentucky children at a disadvantage, relative to the amount of time spent in the classroom devoted to student learning, with children from other states and countries as they compete for jobs in a global economy.
· Reducing two instructional days will result in a 1 percent pay cut to teachers and classified staff, but no apparent pay cut to administrators or state employees.
· Reducing instructional time will jeopardize our Race to the Top application for up to $200 million in federal funds, since U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan is opposed to reductions in instructional time.
· An option enabling districts to pay for the two instructional days from local sources will exacerbate the inequity among school districts in Kentucky, since some districts will fund the days and others will not.

My counter-proposal was very simple. If we do have to reduce funding, then allow local superintendents and school boards the maximum in flexibility with capital dollars, flexible focus, SEEK and other state funds to address the reductions. Superintendents have testified at the House A&R Committee on the types of flexibility they would like to have. My proposal simply attempts to provide the flexibility that was requested. My proposal also would reduce the amount districts would have to cut by 50 percent from the House budget and maintain instructional time. The other 50 percent would be gained from reductions to legislative grants that the Kentucky Department of Education manages.

I have received a number of e-mails, letters and phone calls concerning the alternative proposal. Thanks to all of you for asking the questions, since that is the only way I know that you need additional communications about the budget.

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