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

 

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

 

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

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

KY Chamber Backs Charters

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce CEO Dave Adkisson discussed the organization’s legislative priorities today.  On education, the Chamber seeks to protect school funding – note, not increase or improve, but simply protect existing funds and also to allow charters.

KY Chamber Ed

As the legislature considers the recommendation of the Chamber to allow charters, legislators should also look to other states for some important lessons.

I’ve written before about the unfortunate experience Ohio has had with charters over a long period of time.

Additionally, it seems the Chamber would do well to advance the cause of restoring school funding to 2008 levels, not just protecting funding at its present state.

For more Kentucky education politics and policy news, follow us @KYEdReport

Don’t Stop the Music

A Kentucky teacher makes a plea for the importance of music education in the midst of tough budget decisions:

One of the first things we learned in my music education program my freshman year of college was how to advocate for music education. I always thought it odd that I would learn how to keep my job before I ever got one. Now as the budget gets tight in districts around the state as well as my own, I am continually approached by my teaching peers wondering what programs will be cut next year. Will my program be cut? With the push for more focus on Common Core and reduced funding, is there room for extras? But then I have to ask, why cut something that only reinforces and supports the Common Core while fully implementing 21st Century Skills and the Kentucky Program Reviews?

Read More

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

Kentucky Education News – 11-22-13

This week saw a focused push by education advocates to convince the Kentucky General Assembly to restore education funding to 2008 levels.

Stu Silberman of the Prichard Committee penned this piece calling for a continued focus on progress.

Meanwhile, Andrew Brennen, the student member of the Prichard Committee, made a presentation during which he noted:

Some students pay $130 in fees, but don’t have access to textbooks. And those who do have textbooks often find them in “decrepit” shape, a tangible symbol of the cuts, said Brennen.

Finally, the Courier-Journal ran a story on Superintendent salaries, noting that while some have actually decreased and most have remained relatively flat in recent years, a number of districts have actually substantially increased Superintendent pay.

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

Silberman: Don’t Stop the Progress

Will Kentucky schools keep moving forward?

That’s the question Stu Silberman of the Prichard Committee is asking.

And he’s not alone.  To date, 100 Kentucky school districts have signed a letter calling for the restoration of SEEK funds to 2008 levels.

Education supporters have a rally planned in Frankfort for Thursday to press the case for increased support for schools.

And by increased support, they mean a return to 2008 funding levels.  Because while dollar amounts for SEEK have remained constant, the number of students in school has increased.  That means districts are being asked to do more (a lot more, due to Common Core and a continued push for high standards in Kentucky) with less.

As Silberman points out, the flex funds are critical, too.  Those dollars, now almost gone, provided the extra support to help those students and families most in need.

Without them, Silberman notes that students will simply fall behind.

Kentucky has made steady progress since 1990.  The 20-year trend in NAEP scores shows the state moving forward year after year.

That progress may well stop if proper investment in proven programs is not provided.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

 

 

Kentucky’s Investment in Schools Drops at Wrong Time

Well, it’s never really the right time to decrease your investment in schools, but Kentucky has seen its investment in schools decrease at a time when the economy is in greatest need of improvements in education.

That’s the conclusion drawn by the Kentucky Center on Economic Policy in this study.

As Commissioner Holliday and Stu Silberman have argued, the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly is a critical one for Kentucky schools.

With a decrease in per pupil spending of nearly $500 since 2008, Kentucky can ill afford NOT to invest additional dollars in schools this session.

It’s an election year, so maybe that will motivate lawmakers to do the right thing and start getting education dollars moving in the right direction again.

Yes, revenue and budget priorities are tricky issues — but nothing is more important than keeping Kentucky’s schools moving forward.

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