Friday, March 23, 2001

Schools: Show us the money


Educators say state's budget too meager

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Sixty superintendents, legislators and school finance experts got together this week to talk about money.

        The general consensus: There's not enough.

        The adequacy of the state's education budget was at the top of the list as educators from around the state met Wednesday at the Radisson to discuss concerns about the way Kentucky funds schools.

        “There's not enough money in the formula to adequately meet the needs of students in Kentucky,” said panelist Blake Haselton, superintendent of Oldham County Schools.

Wilhoit
Wilhoit
        It was the first of what is expected to be many discussions as the Kentucky Department of Education begins a review of its 11-year-old funding system.

        “The formula is very contentious because every area of the state is different economically,” said Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit.

        Mr. Wilhoit said the state plans to review the funding system over the next few months, involving finance experts and educators from around the state.

        The goal is to develop a set of recommendations by early fall to pitch to state legislators.

        The funding formula was developed under the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act after the state Supreme Court found the old system unconstitutional because of disparities among districts.

        “No school funding system lasts forever,” said panelist Larry Picus, director of the Center for Research in Education Finance at the University of Southern California.

        “It was impossible 10 years ago to project the kinds of growth and change we're experiencing today.”

        Before KERA, every district got the same amount of state money per student, regardless of local property tax revenue.

        The state now gives more money to districts with less local revenue, which supporters say has made the system more equitable.

        Every district starts with the same base amount, about $3,000 per student.

        That amount, several superintendents and legislators said Wednesday, is inadequate.

        That question needs to be first on the state's agenda, said Allan Odden, co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

        “What's the local education strategy and what kind of ingredients do you need?” he asked.

        Superintendents pointed to other criticisms of how the formula works.

        Among their concerns:

        • The funding formula doesn't provide enough support for districts that are rapidly growing.

        • The formula doesn't account for varying costs-of-living across the state.

        • Permissive taxes and other local revenue are not factored into the formula, which is based solely on property assessments.

        • The state does not provide enough money for special-education services.

        • Districts don't get additional money for other special programs, such as gifted programs and English as a second language.

       



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