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 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.

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Kentucky Schools SEEK Funding Restoration

Gaming, Tax Reform among ideas for generating revenue for schools

Kentucky’s public schools are seeking a restoration of funding to 2008 levels in the 2014 budget year.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Kentucky school districts want to go back to 2008 funding levels.  That’s because funding has steadily been decreasing for Kentucky public schools.  First, the economic collapse in 2008 caused tough budget years.  Then, the legislature faced its own budget challenges because of a failure to address public pension underfunding.  So, the Kentucky General Assembly didn’t decrease funding in the SEEK formula, they just left it the same.  However, the number of students in Kentucky schools steadily increased over the past five years.  Meaning schools and districts are operating on less dollars per pupil than they were just 5 years ago.

In addition to flat SEEK funding, “flexible funds” for schools have actually decreased.  So, districts are left to either make up the funds locally (difficult in many rural communities) or, go without.  Districts report cutting items like foreign language and school counseling, even eliminating the use of buses for extra-curricular activities.

While districts have so far gotten by, they say that if the trend continues, more serious program cuts are on the way.

For their part, lawmakers have generally sounded unsympathetic, noting they’ve had to balance some tough budgets.  Of course, it was the General Assembly that failed to properly fund promised pensions in the past — so, they created the mess they now complain about.

That said, Governor Beshear has talked about both tax reform and expanded gaming as ways to generate revenue to mitigate the state’s budget woes.

Both Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Prichard Committee Executive Director Stu Silberman have been calling for a renewed commitment to proper funding of Kentucky’s schools.

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