Superintendents speak out about future of education in Commonwealth
JCS’ Moore attends conference in Lexington
From staff reports
Kentucky school district superintendents from across the Commonwealth held a series of seven press briefings in various regions of the state to inform the news media and general public about their priorities for the 2020 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. A number of superintendents spoke at each event, communicating how the state legislature can help local districts to best support their students’ success. The Kentucky Association for School Superintendents also released a document created in collaboration with state superintendents, outlining their legislative and advocacy priorities for the 2020 Session.
Jessamine County Supt. Matt Moore attended the briefing in Lexington at the Central Kentucky Educational Cooperative, along with approximately 30 superintendents from area districts. Moore stressed the importance of regular communication with legislators, saying, “It’s important that our elected leaders hear our individual and collective voices, to inform and guide them as they make important decisions that impact hundreds of thousands of Kentucky school children. “Jessamine County is fortunate to have extremely responsive and dedicated leadership representing us in Frankfort. Sen. Tom Buford and Rep. Kim King and Russ Meyer frequently reach out to me for information about decisions that could potentially affect our district. They are always willing to hear from me about the issues that are impacting students, staff, and families in Jessamine County.”
The prioritized list of items for consideration by the General Assembly includes support of district efforts to attract and retain the best and the brightest teachers, administrators, and staff to serve students. With a diminishing number of post-secondary students entering teacher preparation programs and a higher number of teachers leaving the profession, superintendents say that this is a priority that needs immediate attention. Moore pointed to a recent study from the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability that investigated the state’s teacher shortage and found that approximately 28,000 teachers, or 7.3 percent of all Kentucky teachers, left the profession between the years of 2010 and 2018.
Moore said, “An investment in public education includes actions to ensure that high-quality professionals want to work in our schools. These dedicated individuals feel called to work with students and are often willing to make personal sacrifices to do so. We applaud them for that and want to reward them with a competitive salary, a secure retirement, and dependable healthcare, as well as provide high-quality professional development and adequate resources to do their jobs.”
Another priority that superintendents said they would like to see action on in the upcoming session is adequate and equitable funding for public education. At the meeting, superintendents said that over the past two decades, education has lost ground and funding has decreased from 52 percent of the total state budget to the current 43 percent. Federal and state contributions have gone down and local communities are increasingly carrying a larger financial burden. The loss or elimination of critical state grant programs, including funds for safe schools, preschool, instructional materials, and professional development has placed many districts in the position of cutting vital programs in order to balance the budget. According to an analysis by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, state funding per student in Kentucky is actually on the decline and has decreased by more than $120 per student since 2008. One example cited is transportation, which is intended to be funded at 100 percent by the state, and in 2019 is funded at just 66 percent.
For Moore and other JCS administrators, this underfunding can lead to some difficult decisions when considering how to make up the difference and continue programs and services to students. Moore said, “Our district is committed to student-centered budgeting and we want every dollar that we spend to go to serve students and positively impact them. Fewer resources from the state means that we have to rely more on local tax dollars and get more and more creative with how to maintain a high level of services to our students. We’re always looking for grant funding and we are incredibly blessed with wonderful community partners to help address those challenges.”
Kentucky superintendents say that with the current underfunding of public education, diverting public funds for vouchers, tax credits, or for funding charter schools, would only further decrease the funds available to serve public school students.
Moore said he is hopeful that the Kentucky General Assembly will consider the requests of school superintendents across the state when making decisions during the upcoming session
“The question isn’t if the decisions made by our state lawmakers will impact Kentucky students, district staff, and families, but how those decisions will impact all of us,” Moore said. “We value the support of our local legislators and appreciate their thoughtful consideration of the far-reaching implications of their decisions, not just right now, but well into the future for each and every student and for our Commonwealth.”