Thursday, March 3, 2011

Interesting Times in Frankfort

The final days of a “short session” are always interesting. This year is no exception. I informed superintendents via e-mail yesterday about the Senate budget language that would reduce education funding. Over numerous months and in many meetings, I have alerted educators to the Medicaid issue that would eventually have to be reconciled and its impact on P-12 education funding. (See earlier blog postings “Budget Facts and Effects,” “Budget Should Reflect the Needs of Children,” “The New Normal” and “Kentucky’s Moral, Economic and Civic Obligation.”)

Also, I have alerted educators on numerous occasions about the “funding cliff” that is approaching in 2012. I thought readers might be interested in the background about the budget process, and I found an excellent summary of events in the KEA Advocate. With permission from KEA, here are some highlights from the article.

About 7:15 on Wednesday evening, the state Senate voted to cut school funding for the 2011-12 school year. The bill also removes class size limits, eliminates the requirement for kindergarten aides, and removes the requirement for preschool teachers to be certified.

The bill - HB 305 SCS - now goes back to the House to concur or not concur in the changes the Senate made to the bill. This bill will likely go to a conference committee of the two chambers.

Because of less federal support than expected, Kentucky's Medicaid funding faces a significant shortfall. Governor Beshear proposed, and the House agreed, to a "fix" for this issue that did not require cuts in school funding. The House passed its bill - HB 305 - on Feb. 10, the 12th legislative day of this 30-day short session.

HB 305 sat in the Senate for more than two weeks with no action. Then on Tuesday, the 24th day of the session, after the Senate had already adjourned for the day, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee adopted a substitute version of the bill that contains significant cuts in school funding.

About 24 hours after the bill passed Senate A&R, the entire Senate passed the Senate Committee Substitute (SCS) to HB 305.

Proposed Cuts
HB 305 SCS, as adopted by the Senate, contains these cuts in school funding:
SEEK: reductions of $38.6 million. When these cuts are added to the anticipated shortfall we already knew about, the total is $67.3 million for next school year, about a 2.3% cut.
NON-SEEK: other reductions in education funding amount to $9.4 million.

What Happens Next
On Thursday (3/3), HB 305 SCS will be returned to the House of Representatives. The first vote to occur will be whether or not to concur with the Senate's changes in the bill. If the House does not concur, it will inform the Senate. Then each chamber may appoint a joint conference committee to try to work out the differences. House and Senate leadership each appoint members of the conference committee. This process will probably take most of the day Thursday.

Next, the conference committee will meet and try to negotiate a compromise that both chambers can pass. If the committee is a "free" conference committee, other bills can be added to the committee's recommendations so literally, anything can happen. Making this situation more difficult is the legislative calendar. The General Assembly is scheduled to recess after its session on Monday, March 7. They will then reconvene on March 21 and 22 and then adjourn. All this means there is very little time for the General Assembly to consider and act on this crucial issue.

As commissioner, I am extremely concerned about any cuts to public education; however, I also know that the budget situation is extremely complex, given the Medicaid situation. I also realize that the situation was made even more complicated by the unexpected increase in students that resulted in a $28 million shortfall for the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding in 2012.

I am also concerned about the impact of budget cuts on our children’s future. We are in the middle of major education reform with 2009’s Senate Bill1 implementation. This reform focuses on improving the college and career readiness of Kentucky students. This reform will mean an improved economy for Kentucky and improved futures for Kentucky children. Budget cuts will have a significant impact on our ability to deliver on the promise of this reform legislation.

I hope that the budget conferees will consider the future of Kentucky’s children as they make difficult decisions in the next few days.

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