Steve Beshear on Education

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.

Many years ago, Kentucky’s national story when it came to education was cause for embarrassment. Scores were low, and on most measures we lagged far behind. But thanks to decades of hard work and aggressive policy changes, Kentucky has carved out a new reputation as a reform-minded state that is innovative, bold and determined.

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? ***

Since I became governor, our efforts have focused on three areas:
Improving early childhood education.
Raising the graduation rate.
And increasing the college and career readiness of our students, who will become the workforce upon which Kentucky’s economic future depends.

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.

Three weeks ago, our efforts received a game-changing boost when we were awarded a $44.3 million Race to the Top grant to improve early learning programs for thousands of Kentucky preschoolers.
Here in Kentucky, the initiative is called the All-STARS plan — Accelerating learning Statewide Through an Advanced Rating System. I will seek legislation needed to implement the goals of the All-STARS plan which will  provide for more accountability and better transparency throughout our state’s early childcare system. Getting our children off to a better start in life
 all of our children, not just those in wealthy, two-parent households
 will dictate our success as a state.
In the second area, graduation rates, we are making huge strides.

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.”

And I love the headline of the article in TIME: “What Every Child Can Learn from Kentucky.”
 We were also the second state to adopt the Next-Generation Science Standards, and now we’re creating standards for social studies and arts and the humanities. We also are implementing a new model of secondary career and technical education to make it more accessible to students at an earlier age, more rigorous academically and  better aligned with both postsecondary requirements and employer needs. Furthermore, we have seen a 28 percent increase in the number of students transferring credits from our two-year colleges to our four-year programs.
The bottom line: We are fitting the pieces together to create a seamless, cradle-to-career education system that is better preparing our students for this complex world.

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.

Throughout the recent historic recession, you and I protected SEEK, the basic funding formula for classrooms, from cuts. But preserving funding isn’t enough. From 2000 to 2008, SEEK grew an average of 3.4 percent each year. But from 2008 to 2014, it grew zero percent
 even as enrollment expanded, costs increased, and local support in some areas dropped. Furthermore, to balance our budget during the recession, we eliminated funding for textbooks and significantly reduced funding for teacher training and school safety.  Now, despite these austerity measures, Kentucky’s education community still made tremendous progress for our children, placing Kentucky on the leading edge of education reform in this country.

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.

If we continue to cut or freeze education funding, our schools face the prospect of laying off significant numbers of teachers, greatly increasing class room sizes and letting technology and equipment grow more outdated and useless. We are in danger of losing all of the positive momentum which has been built up. And I am not going to allow that to happen. I am determined to find money to reinvest in education
 – 
 even if I have to make harmful cuts in other areas to do so.
Beshear also mentioned the need to increase teacher pay to keep Kentucky competitive.
The education community was likely pleased, as they have been pushing for new funding in recent months.
By contrast, Senate President Robert Stivers released a GOP agenda that did not include education funding among it’s top 5 goals for 2014.
For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KYEdReport

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