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Report: Kentucky's School Funding Struggling to Keep Up

K-12 education funding in Kentucky is not keeping up with growth and inflation. (Greg Stotelmyer)
K-12 education funding in Kentucky is not keeping up with growth and inflation. (Greg Stotelmyer)
December 17, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Since the recession hit in 2008, Kentucky has been one of the worst states in terms of cuts to elementary and secondary education funding.

According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky ranks 10th worst in overall funding cuts – more than 12 percent when inflation is taken into account.

The state is sixth worst in cuts to its core funding formula, known as SEEK.

"With the base level of funding eroding, we're hurting the most, our students who have the highest level of need," says Tom Shelton, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

Shelton says those are students in poverty, those with special needs and English language learners.

He says while the legislature has been able to keep total funding dollars relatively flat since 2008, rising costs and more students have led to the reduction in per pupil spending.

Shelton hopes when lawmakers return to Frankfort in January they will grasp the clear needs of Kentucky's schools.

"Maybe our General Assembly can see now that we have an antiquated system for revenues and we're too dependent on sales and use taxes and on personal income taxes,” he stresses. “And, we have to have a more effective system so we don't leave so much money behind."

One of the co-authors of the report, Michael Leachman, says 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year, compared to 2008.

"It means layoffs, shorter school years, bigger classes sizes, for example,” Leachman points out. “Those sorts of cuts are damaging, not only to the experiences of students, but also to the national economy."

To make matters worse in Kentucky, Shelton says the unfunded liability in the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System, estimated to be anywhere from $12 to 18 billion, has a direct impact on school funding.

"Truly the cost of the pension is part of the cost of education,” he states. “It comes off the top at the state level."

Shelton says coming up with a long-range plan to meet that obligation is at the top of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents' 2016 legislative priorities.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY