Voluntary Vouchers?

Gary Houchens writes about an interesting approach to vouchers in Kentucky. I’m not sure this proposal will go very far, but here’s a summary of the proposal:

HB 384 would allow private citizens or corporations to make donations to tuition assistance programs that would provide subsidies for children who cannot afford private school tuition, and then receive a credit on their state tax bill for half the amount of their donation.  These tuition assistance programs would provide help to poor and middle class families with annual household incomes up to $60,000, with $10,000 added to that threshold for each additional school-aged child in the family.

Also, HB 384 would allow citizens and companies to make similar donations to the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund (CSIF), which was established by the state legislature several years ago to support struggling public schools in their improvement efforts.  These donations would also be subject to the 50% state tax credit.  In this way, HB 384 is a great mechanism for supporting both public and non-public schools.

Gary explains his reasons for supporting the legislation in his post.

Here are some thoughts I have on the pros and cons of this approach:

PROS

Donations to the fund are strictly voluntary. No tax dollars go directly to supporting schools accepting the tuition assistance (voucher).

Because the program is a tax credit, per pupil dollars are not directly taken from school systems in the way they are in traditional voucher programs.

The bill also encourages funding for a school improvement program designed to help struggling schools – I find the approach of offering more support/assistance to struggling schools preferable to punishing those schools.

CONS

The funding may vary from year to year, so it is not clear what happens if donations aren’t enough to cover commitments as the voucher program expands.

Ultimately, there would be an adjustment to funds public school systems receive as the SEEK formula is calculated in years following a student leaving via a voucher

The uncertainty of the funding may discourage some families from accepting the voucher, thus limiting any positive impact it may have

School improvement funding should not be contingent on voluntary funds

I think the idea of providing tax credits to individuals and corporations who support a school improvement fund is a novel approach to a particularly tricky problem. Likewise, because the donations are voluntary and the ultimate cost in terms of public dollars, even with tax credits, is likely minimal – this voucher scheme seems less onerous than others around the country.

It will be interesting to see how the program evolves if it receives sufficient support to become law.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

School Facilities and Student Learning

The Prichard Blog has a story today on what has happened to school facilities in Kentucky since the Rose case.  That’s the case that determined that Kentucky’s school funding was inadequate and mandated a new formula. It’s what led up to KERA and the SEEK funding formula.

The study, by Caroline Wilson, details the impact on student learning of school facilities.

Specifically, Wilson notes:

The findings suggest that the additional facilities funding since the Rose decision created a teaching and learning environment that supported the tenets of an adequate education that previously had not been realized.

That is to say that the Rose decision had a positive impact on the facilities available for student learning and that this, in turn, positively impacted student learning.

Wilson examined 5 building features to determine first, if they had improved and then, if the improvement had impacted student learning.

The features included:

Five features were selected for examination: security, technological readiness, lighting, thermal comfort and air quality.

The full study details exactly how the Rose decision impacted facility funding in Kentucky and how it specifically impacted the student learning environment under study.

The bottom line is this: The study suggests that the funding formula changes after the Rose decision have improved the learning environment for Kentucky kids.  Kentucky has continued to fund education reform and it appears to be paying off in terms of improved facilities and better outcomes for students.

For more on Kentucky education policy and politics, follow @KYEdReport

 

KY Schools Need Technology Funding

Tabetha Cooksey, a middle school science teacher at Cumberland County Middle School discusses the importance of school funding as it relates to technology.

Here is her central argument:

If dollars are not included in the budget for textbooks or e-books, then how are our students going to become independent learners? We want our teachers to facilitate student learning, but without these tools it is impossible to improve the learning experience of students. Our students need the opportunity to extend their learning beyond the classroom with virtual labs and interactive assignments that expand their understanding of what is being taught.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

KY Ed Report Interviews Andrew Brennen

Andrew Brennen serves as the student member of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence.  He graciously agreed to an interview with Kentucky Education Report. You can follow him on Twitter @aebrennen

Andrew Brennen is a high school senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky.  He and his partner were state champions in public forum debate this season.

Here are his answers to our questions:

1. Tell us about your role with the Prichard Committee? How were you selected? What do you do with the Committee?

I have two roles within the Prichard Committee for Academic excellence.  I serve as the first full voting student member of the Prichard Committee.  This role came about after 13 other Central Kentucky students and I worked with adult allies for the better part of the school year to make the case to Prichard Committee members at their spring meetings that students could and should be education policy partners.We premised the argument on the idea that the Prichard Committee has been a national leader in mobilizing stakeholders in the education system but in 30 years of work they never fully integrated students in that effort.  This represented a necessary change.

The second role I play is as a co-designer and active member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, the initiative that came out of the original presentation last June. If last year was our think-tank stage, this year is a very active pilot phase in which we’re hoping to serve as a national model for student integration in substantive education policy work.  I have leveraged an independent study from my high school and been able to devote an unusual amount of time to helping to direct the group with a team of adults and other students   We have been prototyping ideas all year long and are constantly refining and innovating both our infrastructure and activities. Here’s more on the Student Voice Team.

 How did you become engaged with education advocacy?

My interest in Education Advocacy arose initially from my involvement with the Kentucky YMCA’s KYA and KUNA programs.  The mock/experiential government programs in many ways served to help me identify and strengthen my interests and by my junior year, it was clear to me that civic engagement and education policy were my twin passions.  The Prichard Committee and the Student Voice team serve as a way for me to practice those passions moving from the practice-for-the-real-world policy making at KYA to the real-world policy making with the Prichard Committee

3.  What do you see as the most pressing need facing Kentucky schools?

 There are two.

  Adequate Funding for Kentucky Public Schools and inequality of funding.  The current level of funding for Kentucky public schools is not adequate to accomplish the goal of bringing every student to the level of efficient.  Many national standards will tell you that though Kentucky does very well with what we have if you compare our funding levels to other states, we rank extremely low in our absolute per pupil spending and students from Whitesburg to Bowling Green are feeling the pinch.

 Lack of Student Voice in decision-making.  Why do we not engage students–particularly those in middle school and older–in the challenging issues that face our schools? Why not teach students to think critically about testing, the debate around the Common Core, discrepancies in funding across and within school districts, the achievement gap between races, socio-economic classes and students with disabilities and supporting effective teaching?  Why not engage students in helping to find solutions to the very problems they face every day in the classroom?  Why not support students to practice democracy instead of just learning about it?

4. Do you think Gov. Beshear’s budget goes far enough, or can more be done to improve education in the Commonwealth?

Gov. Beshear’s budget takes an excellent step toward the direction of adequate funding.  Encouraging the state legislature to pass the budget as is one of our top priorities; however, when it comes to improving the quality of education in the Commonwealth, funding isn’t the only issue.  The Prichard Committee’s Team on Teacher Effectiveness recently produced a report outlining some steps Kentucky can take to increase the quality of teaching in the state which is arguably the most immediate indicator of student achievement.  Additionally, work having to do with increased internet access and early childhood education needs to be prioritized as both affect significantly quality of education here in Kentucky.

5. What would you say to policymakers unwilling to make schools a top budget priority?

I would remind these legislators that funding K-12 education is more than just an expenditure in the now.  The return on investment as a result of a higher quality of education is significant.  Legislators can either make the choice now to invest more in those students who supposedly mean the most to Kentucky or avoid making the hard choice only to face the repercussions in the future.  Kentucky has made huge strides in education since the passing of KERA, however, the rocket we have been riding on is losing fuel. We need to reinvest before our plan takes a nose dive.

6.  What would you tell other students who want to get involved with education advocacy?

Do it. If you are interested in getting involved with the work being done with the Prichard Committee do not hesitate to contact us at studentvoiceteam@prichardcommittee.org.   As far as being involved with other work education-related or not, just remember that you are only limited by your imagination and passion.  In school, we spend hours learning what democracy is and looks like, But I would encourage all students to go out on their own or with a team and discover how they can apply democratic values themselves.  We live in a society that seems to suggest that your responsibility toward civic engagement only begins on your 18th birthday.  But it’s not true, and our communities need you.  Your responsibility begins now.

7. Where will you be going to college? Why’d you make that choice?

If you ask me again in 20 days I will probably have an answer for you.  I am still waiting to hear back from some schools and scholarships before I make a final decision.  What I do know is that I want to study public policy and business while in college, and most of the schools I am considering have strong programs in both.

8.  Will we see Andrew Brennen for Governor signs in the future? Do you have political aspirations?

I prefer to think of my future in terms of the goals I hope to have accomplished and not necessarily in terms of specific titles.  I want to be following my beliefs and passions.  I want to support the right to an education and the right to speech. I want to be happy with what I do in life and help serve as a microphone for those whose voices are often stifled. If I end up running for some political office to help accomplish those goals, it will be mainly because I find it the best vehicle to help me do just that.

 Will Kentucky or Louisville win the national title in basketball this year?

University of Kentucky signs my father’s paycheck so my allegiance is secured.

For more on Kentucky education policy and politics, follow @KYEdReport

 

Kentucky Teachers Talk Education Funding

The Prichard Blog features two teachers talking about the importance of a legislative commitment to education funding.

First up is Kim Delaney, a first grade teacher in Boone County.

Here is the central portion of her argument:

First grade has changed a lot since you and I were in a classroom. The days of Dick and Jane basal readers have passed. I have the responsibility to teach    24 students, and sometimes more, to read. First grade students are required to read 67 words per minute in fiction as well as non-fiction texts by the end    of first grade. We expect our children to be equipped and prepared to be college- and career-ready to compete in a global society. Despite the    responsibility I have for those 24 students, I am given 11 reading textbooks to use with them. This is a tragedy. Children learn to read by holding a book    in their hands, tracking print, looking at pictures and more. My children must have the tools they need to read in order to learn to think critically and    to become accomplished readers and writers.

 Standards require my students to be able to research and utilize technology, yet I have three desktop computers for 24 students to share.

 We can accept no further cuts to education for our children and grandchildren.

Next, Michelle Rynbrandt-Hendricks, currently a 4th grade teacher in Bullitt County, offers her thoughts.  She talks about what it’s like being a high school special education teacher, a job she previously held.

Here’s what she has to say:

The reality is that teachers will do what it takes to make things happen for kids. Teachers will buy Kyle a new pair of shoes when his are so full of holes    and won’t stay on his feet, they will pitch in to pay a plumber to fix the toilet for the family who can’t flush theirs, they will beg for someone to give  Andy a haircut; get the heat turned on where Morgan lives and make sure Jamie and her 3-year-old little brother have presents from Santa.

  Teachers always have been and always will be givers. They are fiercely protective of their charges. Just because teachers and other school employees will    move mountains in order to get what their kids need, doesn’t mean they should have to move mountains.

  Fully funding education means that the above situations don’t have to be so common. Safe and functional spaces for kids to learn, fair compensation and a    protected retirement for teachers, adequate support for professional development and training so that teachers can be prepared for the subjects they   teach–these things should not be the exception. Fully funding education should be the rule.

Kentucky teachers are speaking out about the needs of their students — and their own very real needs.  Teachers, as Michelle notes, deserve professional compensation and a secure retirement. Students deserve safe spaces to learn and adequate learning materials (textbooks, technology, classroom supplies).

Kentucky is in danger of falling behind after years of making great gains.  As these teachers note, Kentucky students deserve better — and they can’t wait for the legislature to put it off until a more comfortable budget year.  Leadership requires tough choices.  The question is: Will Kentucky’s legislators lead, or will they allow Kentucky to fall behind?

 

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

 

 

A Student Speaks Out on the Need for School Funding Increases

Andrew Brennen, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and a member of the Prichard Committee’s student voice team, penned an op-ed that appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

His article comes on the heels of notice by the Fayette County Superintendent that absent additional funding, the school system would have to make $20 million in cuts to next year’s budget. Items like elementary band maybe eliminated and library services will be reduced.

Brennen notes that this problem is not unique to Fayette County and cites the following dismal numbers:

Kentucky has joined 14 other states in decreasing state support of per-student spending in the last year.

■ Slashed funds to support tutoring by nearly two-thirds since 2008. 

■ Decreased professional development funds for teachers from $13 million in 2008 to just $3 million in 2013. 

■ Committed zero state dollars toward textbooks and other learning materials since 2011.

Brennen points out that students are noticing.  He cites students from other Fayette County Schools who are also lamenting the loss of important programs and in some cases, the loss of valued teachers. Brennen is letting Kentucky policymakers know they are at a crossroads.  They can either embrace the step forward envisioned in Governor Steve Beshear’s budget proposal or they can see their now solid schools begin to slip away.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Investing in the Power of Education

Daviess County educator Jana Bryant offers her take on the need for investing in Kentucky’s schools:

Kentucky is making great progress increasing college- and career-readiness, but this progress cannot continue by failing to fund needs like textbooks and technology, necessary teacher training to implement the Common Core, and support services that increase opportunities to uplift underperforming and underrepresented students suffering from academic defeat and under realized potential.

Jana is the latest in a chorus of teacher voices singing out in the name of improved funding for Kentucky’s schools.  The song is the same:  We’ve done well, but that progress will stop unless Kentucky commits to continued investment in its public schools.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

Is Kentucky Invested in the Future?

Not yet, according to Brad Clark, a Hope Street Group Fellow and teacher in Woodford County.

He writes passionately about the need to properly invest in Kentucky’s future by investing in its students and teachers.

He notes the need for additional resources in schools:

I am not exaggerating when I say that the fourth grade textbook we use to teach Kentucky History in 2014 is the exact same textbook — with a picture of Daniel Boone standing triumphantly on the front cover — that I used when I was in 4th grade in 1991.

And he notes the lack of investment in meaningful professional development for teachers:

 I have even designed and submitted a “Professional Growth Plan” that sits idle in a folder in an office in my building. Yet, I have no way of implementing my strategies for refining my craft. I do not blame my principal for this because he wants every student and teacher in his building to get better at what they do, but he lacks the necessary resources to make that happen.

His central point is that Kentucky is at a crossroads.  While investment in education increased steadily from 1990-2008 following the Kentucky Education Reform Act, that investment has tapered in recent years.  The per pupil funding provided by SEEK has actually declined.

Governor Beshear has proposed a budget that begins to reverse this trend, in some cases at the expense of other areas of state government.

While Kentucky made historic progress that garnered national attention during the years of investment following KERA, those gains are in danger. With new standards for students and new evaluations for teachers, now more than ever, Kentucky must invest in its schools.

Lawmakers would do well to heed the words of Mr. Clark and begin the process of re-investing in Kentucky schools.  They should also view this year’s investment as a starting point and find ways in the future to continue significant investment in Kentucky’s schools and its future.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

The “War” for Teaching Talent

Stu Silberman from the Prichard Committee turns over his blog at EdWeek to Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt who discussed the need for a War for Talent in Teaching.

Sheratt argues that baby-boomer retirements and a growing focus on the importance of teacher quality mean states and districts must do more to improve the teaching field, including improving HR practices.

Here are a few key takeaways:

Teaching must    both be and be perceived to be an exciting career for college students with many other options – including in law, business, and other    high-paying fields that are aggressively recruiting the next generation of talent.

How to do this? Better pay, paid professional development, targeted marketing that highlights the strengths of the profession.

I’ve written before about the importance of improving teacher pay.

And that is very important.  Governor Beshear has made a commitment to at least giving Kentucky teachers a well-deserved raise.

It’s also important to increase the respect afforded teachers.  Paid professional development is a part of that.  A marketing campaign highlighting the amazing things teachers do every day can help, too.

But, it’s frustrating to hear again and again about how important teacher quality is and not to hear about realistic, focused plans to improve compensation and the professional environment for teachers.

States can make investments in improving pay and support for teachers, but they choose not to. While many states have changed teacher evaluation and added some use of test scores to evaluate teachers, those same states have not placed a similar focus on improving pay.

While 2% for Kentucky teachers this year is a good start, it’s not the move toward winning the “talent war” Kentucky or other states need.

Choosing investments in schools, including better pay and support for teachers, is critical to improving education outcomes.  It requires difficult choices and the prioritization of education over other budget items.  That means leadership.  The lack of which will mean we’ll continue reading stories about America’s struggling education system for years to come.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

 

Governor Beshear’s Proposed Education Investments

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear delivered his budget address last night. His proposed budget includes 5% cuts to most state programs while also including significant new investment in K-12 education and in infrastructure.

Here are the highlights of the K-12 education proposals:

Improving Competitiveness through Education: The most important investments in the Governor’s proposed budget are in K-12 education. The largest item is SEEK, the main funding formula for our classrooms. From 2000 to 2008, SEEK grew an average of 3.4 percent each year. But from 2008 to 2014, funding flatlined – even as enrollment expanded, costs increased and local support in some areas declined. In effect, per-pupil spending dropped, even though the annual SEEK allocation remained the same.

Governor Beshear recommends investing $189 million over the biennium into SEEK, bringing per pupil spending to its highest total ever.

That allocation will include pay increases for all teachers and classified school personnel (2 percent the first year, 1 percent the second year).

Gov. Beshear’s proposed education investments also include:

  • $95.4 million over the biennium for textbooks, professional development, school safety and Extended School Services (restoring funds to near-2008 levels)
  • $36 million over the biennium to expand preschool services to serve 5,125 more 4-year-olds by increasing eligibility from 150 percent of the poverty level to 160 percent. This is a 22 percent increase in enrollment.
  • $50 million for technology and school equipment upgrades, funded through General Fund-supported bonds •$100 million for school facilities construction to replace aging K-12 school buildings through General Fund-supported bonds

 

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport