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Kentucky Education Funding Drops 12 Percent Over Four Years

School hallway
Eleanor Hasken
Sarah Yost prepares her classroom for her new students at Wesport Middle School, in Louisville, Ky., on Friday, August 8, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken

State spending on elementary and secondary education in Kentucky has dropped at one of the highest rates in the U.S. since 2008, according to a report released Thursday from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

State allocation per-student fell about 12 percent from 2008 to 2014, the report shows. That's the 10th largest drop among states during that time period and puts Kentucky in a pool of 15 states that cut state spending on education by more than 10 percent during that span.

Kentucky has a formula-driven education funding system called SEEK, which takes into account student population, transportation costs and other factors.

Among other formula-driven funding systems in the U.S., Seek has also been cut at one of the starkest rates from 2008 to 2016, per the report. Kentucky is among just 12 states to have a net loss in per-student formula funding in the current fiscal year, the report shows.

Although the state allocated additional funding for the SEEK program in 2015, the increase wasn't enough to lead to a net gain in funding levels due to inflation and an influx of students, according to the report.

Per-student SEEK funding in 2008 was reported as $4,902; in the current year it's reported as $4,383, said Ashley Spalding, a research policy associate with the Kentucky Center of Economic Policy.

She added a dip in SEEK funding hits poorer school districts harder than others.

That's because when those funds drop the school districts feel pressure to raise property tax rates, which in turn can have detrimental impacts on families.

Spalding described the funding levels as disheartening but not necessarily surprising because state funds are limited. Still, Spalding said state lawmakers need to take action to increase revenue in the state through tax reform, which could give leeway for putting more money towards education.

Getting more state funding for education will be seen as a challenge in the upcoming General Assembly, said Republican Sen. C.B. Embry Jr. of Morgantown.

Embry, chair of the Senate Budget Review Subcommittee on Education, said the state's pension crisis will likely be a priority among budget discussions in the upcoming session.

"There will probably be less funds in the coming budget than in the one we have now," he said. "Addressing needs will be most challenging."

He said he believes the drop in spending for kindergarten through 12th grade education is due mainly to the increase in spending for Medicaid. "The decrease in money for education is almost exactly the same as the increase in spending for health care for the needy," he said.

State Rep. Rick Rand, a Democrat from Bedford, said legislators have "done a good job" of keeping K-12 funding levels as high as possible given the state's financial state.

Rand, who chairs the House committee on appropriations and revenue, also pointed to the issues surrounding the state's pension system as the topic that will be top on the agenda when the session reconvenes early next year.

He said funding education is always a top priority.

Funding education is a top priority in the House, Rand said.

"But with that being said, it's not the only priority," he said.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.