Friday, December 9, 2011

Time for Bold Action to Ensure Fiscal Strength

As we prepare for the General Assembly’s 2012 session, the primary concern I am hearing from teachers, principals and superintendents is the challenge of doing more with less.

Certainly, this is a challenge that many families are facing every day. The challenge for Kentucky educators is that 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) required major reforms in learning standards, assessments, professional development and accountability.

The vision of SB 1 is very important for Kentucky children and Kentucky’s future. We must graduate more students from high school who are ready for college and career. Education certainly drives employment opportunities for our graduates, and employment drives our economy. However, the challenge remains to implement the requirements of SB 1 at a time when we see dwindling resources for instructional materials, early childhood opportunities, Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs), extended school services, professional development and jobs.

I am proposing a three-pronged method to deal with the challenge.

1. Productivity and efficiency must be our first approach to dealing with fewer resources. Already, we are seeing Kentucky school districts decreasing energy costs through energy management and energy education initiatives led by the Kentucky School Boards Association. Recently, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at a Kentucky conference that encouraged schools and districts to continue to look for ways to improve productivity and efficiency. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) will convene school district officials in the early part of the year to decide upon four to five key support processes in our schools that we can look at to determine costs per student and develop best-practice strategies to reduce operation costs so dollars can be redirected to support teaching and learning.

2. Redirection of dollars also must be a key strategy. We must look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that flow through KDE and determine which of the programs add value to our vision of college and career readiness. During the 2010-11 legislative sessions, I asked for flexibility with these flow-through dollars. I will once again ask for flexibility and ask members of the General Assembly to focus dollars toward SB 1 and the college- and career-readiness strategies. Also, through the federal No Child Left Behind waiver, school districts will have flexibility to utilize federal dollars in more effective ways to increase student learning.

3. Finally, I believe it is time to look for additional sources of revenue. Over the last two years, KDE has implemented a strategy to seek foundation and grant dollars. While we were not funded fully from our Race to the Top grant, we will receive $17 million in Round 3 to implement SB 1 strategies. Also, we have seen significant support from the Gates, Hewlett, Stupski, Carnegie and Wallace Foundations. While external dollars are appreciated, they cannot be sustained. Kentucky must look for recurring sources of revenue to sustain our efforts. Kentucky can no longer cut funding for basic needs like preschool, instructional materials, FRYSCs and other core programs. For every dollar we cut today, we are damaging the future of children and the future of Kentucky.

While the 2012 session does feature key issues such as redistricting, and an election year is looming, I feel it is important to ask for collaboration of elected officials to support education. Pursuant to 2010 budget language, I have asked Governor Steve Beshear to utilize available funds to fill the SEEK shortfall that we have announced today.

I’ve notified our district superintendents that we believe the SEEK shortfall will be approximately $58 million, based on multiple factors including higher attendance/growth and lower property assessments.

I hope that readers will join me in advocating for children and for the future of Kentucky. Our Governor and General Assembly strongly support education, and they will need our support and encouragement as they tackle these three strategies for supporting education. No one strategy can stand alone. This must be a coordinated effort to implement all three strategies. I look forward to discussion, debate and action over the next few months.

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