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Be It Resolved....Fund Public Schools

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Debbie Wesslund is one of seven members of the Jefferson County Board of Education in Louisville, Kentucky - a district of more than 100,000 students. She writes about Kentucky school boards uniting around the need for funding. 

Boards of Education all across Kentucky are telling state officials that it is time to reinvest in education. One by one, boards are passing resolutions calling attention to the dire need for funding to ensure students have every opportunity to succeed. At this writing, 87 Boards have signed on to this clear message, with Jefferson County - the state's largest system - joining in at its first meeting in November.

The resolution challenges the Kentucky General Assembly and the Governor to take action, including raising revenues if necessary, to put the students first, "investing in their future and fully funding their educational needs so that Kentucky's public education system can ensure that they are college and career ready."

I should add that over the past few years these state officials have supported the drive toward higher expectations and adopted new policies to raise achievement for students.

In fact, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was the first to implement the new Common Core State Standards, with the Governor's strong support, and is the first to post gains on those new standards. We are getting national attention for this, but while the 2013 EdWeek Quality Counts Report put Kentucky in the top 10 in overall education policy and performance, it gave our state an F in spending.

We all say that education is the pathway to economic prosperity. Schools take that to heart every day, but to make the case to state and national policy makers that public education is underfunded, we have to remind voters of that as well.

In my view, we need to reinforce the value of public education as we talk money. It is clear that policy makers don't hear about that enough, as evidenced by the fact that Kentucky's education funding has dropped by 10 percent since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities .

Our country's decades-long support for public education reflects our national belief that everyone should have an equal chance to succeed. That fundamental value should continue to bolster our will to fund great schools.

The recession directly impacted schools with budget cuts, and indirectly, as well, through the struggles kids brought to school because of family stresses. While the effects of recession still linger, we are coming out of it, and we need to find ways to fully fund schools and the programs they offer to kids and families so they can meet all needs.

We focus on equity on the state level and in Jefferson County. The state S.E.E.K. formula (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) ensures a base level of funding for every student, with enhancements to meet some special needs. JCPS, which includes 102,000 students both urban and suburban, ensures all students receive an equitable portion from our local tax base, no matter where they live in the county.

Locally, we have made cuts, especially in our central services, but at the same time we are adding programs that are showing progress. And, we have asked our community to support us through local tax increases. We are implementing new standards, a new teacher growth system, and extending learning opportunities for struggling students. These efforts cost money, and this is the time to increase support. Here is a list of a few examples of the recent budget realities in Jefferson County:

  • We are no longer provided any funding from the state for textbooks - a loss to JCPS in excess of $3 million per year.
  • The flat per-pupil allocation from the SEEK formula has resulted in $12.6 million less for JCPS this year compared with what the base would have provided in 2011-12.
  • State funding for family resource centers has decreased, at a time when more families are in poverty and need these services. We have patched this with about $1 million.
  • Our state law-mandated contribution to employee retirement funds is increasing. For the teachers system alone, this year we have had to add $2.5 million.
  • With an international population, we need more support for language programs. This year we spent about $500,000 for additional ESL staff. And, with increases ECE needs, we added $1.2 for additional resource teachers.
  • For years, JCPS has provided full-day kindergarten, while the state covers only a half-day program.
  • We are spending $7.5 million in new money for extended day learning. Some kids need more time, and providing that at school has already shown progress.

The 2014 legislative session in Kentucky will focus on enacting a two-year budget, so it is a key time for public education supporters to mobilize. Education is truly a common ground. It should be a place where elected officials from all political ideologies can convene and get something done - together - and be proud. Universal public education is what we should rally around. Let's strengthen the foundation of public education, while continuing to hold it to high standards.

The Kentucky Education Action Team is a group that has formed to send this message. It is made up of business leaders, along with school board, parent and teacher groups. Commissioner Terry Holliday has made funding a top goal, too. I am proud of school boards in Kentucky, urban and rural, who are uniting around a clear message that funding is key to educational progress. We need more bold voices to join us.

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