Last night, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear delivered his State of the Commonwealth address. Here’s what he had to say about education in Kentucky and his plans for the upcoming legislative session:
I talk to business executives almost daily about what they need to make their companies successful. They tell me that factors like low taxes, incentives, good roads, logistical support and low utility rates are all important. But their No. 1 concern is their workforce finding enough talented, skilled, energetic, healthy and educated workers.
That new reputation was further strengthened early in 2013, when Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report ranked Kentucky in the top 10 states in student performance and education progress …
and a few months later, when a Harvard study ranked us eighth in student performance improvement over the last two decades. We also rank sixth in the number of teachers earning National Board Certification. So now, when our educators attend national conferences, they are barraged with questions from leaders in other states who want to know: How is Kentucky doing it, and how can they replicate our success? ***
In the first area, early childhood, we have coalesced around a concept called “kindergarten readiness” and are implementing a kindergarten entry screener to evaluate where incoming students stand on cognitive, physical and emotional skills.
Our graduation rate improved from 69.7 percent for the class of 2000 to 79.9 percent for the class of 2010. This year, Kentucky joined other states in using a more accurate way to measure the number of students who graduate. Our rate of 86 percent when measured against the most recent data from other states ranks us among the top states. And that rate will continue to improve as we implement the Graduation Bill passed last session and other important supports for these at-risk students. As you recall, Kentucky’s 173 school districts had the option of increasing the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 for the 2015 school year, with the bill becoming mandatory once 96 of the districts had done so. Well, it didn’t take long. We exceeded that goal in just two weeks, and the First Lady and I are so proud of our education community for stepping up so rapidly. So far, 140 of our 173 districts have adopted that new policy.
The third area, college and career readiness, is a measure of whether our schools are doing their job. In 2010, only 34 percent of Kentucky high school graduates were adequately prepared to take the next step in life. Today, that number is 54 percent putting us on target to meet the 2015 goal of 67 percent. That’s a huge jump, and it is partly the result of new standards for learning that hold students and teachers to a higher bar. Since 2011, public school educators have been using the Kentucky version of Common Core academic standards in English/language arts and mathematics, which define the minimum that students should know at each grade level. Core Content plays down rote memorization, and instead gives students the skills that today’s workplace demands: creative and critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity and communication.
As the first state to adopt the standards, Kentucky won national recognition in a variety of places. TIME magazine, for example, said we “barreled headlong into the future.”
I know that you and I want nothing less than to produce the brightest minds in the world and to create a workforce that companies fall all over themselves to come to Kentucky to hire. And we’re getting there. But ladies and gentlemen, that progress is in jeopardy with every dollar we cut out of education.
But they have stretched every dollar they have as far as they can — and now they’re out of options. To add to the pain, Kentucky schools are facing the delayed impact of the federal sequester cuts. They will have to figure out how to make up the loss of approximately $28 million in federal funding in the current fiscal year, with the potential for an additional $28 million hit in the next year.