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Report Gives Low Grade To Kentucky's Cuts To Education

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A new analysis of Kentucky's funding priorities finds the commonwealth has not reinvested in education since making cuts during the recent Great Recession. And further cuts to education are expected when Governor Matt Bevin unveils his budget next week.

The report from the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy analyzed the state's current spending. Preschool through 12th grade education made up 45 percent of the state’s $11 billion general fund spending in the most recent budget. Medicaid made up 17 percent and post-secondary education made up 10 percent.

But according to the report, funding for educational programs including textbooks, professional development and school services have all decreased by more than 20 percent since 2008.

State spending on classroom resources and textbooks has decreased by $5 million over the past decade. Other cuts include professional development, which decreased by more than three million dollars, and extended school services, which took a more than six million dollar cut.

Kentucky Center for Economic Policy senior policy analyst Ashley Spalding said there are budgetary ways around cutting essential services.

“The state hasn't raised revenue, for instance, by cleaning up the special interest tax breaks that we have in our state,” she said. “And this is at the same time that our lawmakers say that they’re protecting education and they’ve made every effort to protect it.”

The Effect Of Cuts On Learning

Gov. Matt Bevin has warned that the new state budget “won’t be pretty” as lawmakers deal with a projected revenue shortfall and the challenge of overhauling Kentucky’s pension systems.

But Jefferson County Teachers Association president Brent McKim said these aren't new problems; he’s watched as the state has under-invested in education over the years.

“What I think every teacher I know winds up doing is spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars out their own pocket from their salary because they don’t necessarily have the supplies that they need," McKim said.

And he said this has a direct effect on students, too.

“If you don’t have supplies for a science class to be able to do hands-on experiments and things like that, that’s what kids remember and that’s what makes their learning real for them," he said.

There are also maintenance issues that aren't as obvious to students, he said, like not being able to replace bus fleets, heating units and roofing in a timely manner.

“Public education is not an expense but really an investment,” McKim said. “If you don’t educate your community well then in the long run it really costs a great deal more than what you save in the short term.”

Bevin will release his proposed budget on Tuesday. He is also expected to make mid-year cuts to fill a projected $155 million budget deficit.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.