Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget, released last week, reflects his priority to invest in schools “to keep Kentucky at the forefront of educational attainment in this nation.” For the 2014-16 biennium budget, Beshear proposed a $300 million increase for K-12 education, which includes a:
- $189 million increase for basic funding
- $60 million to expand broadband access throughout the state
- $50 million for updated instructional devices
- $2 million for a residential STEM high school
- A nearly $40 million increase for professional development and extended school services programs
Beshear has proposed allocating an additional $189 million over the next two years to the state’s SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) program. SEEK monies are state funds doled out according to a formula and make up the primary financing for local school districts. The increase comes on the heels of five years of flat or declining funding.
Under the governor’s plan, the SEEK program would receive $71 million more in fiscal year 2015 and $118 million more in fiscal year 2016. These funds would raise the base funding from $3,827 to $3,911 per student in fiscal 2015 and $3,981 in fiscal 2016, the highest level ever. Further, the boost would mean a 2 percent raise for teachers in 2015 and a 1 percent raise the year after.
In addition to increased general funding for education, the governor also proposed $60 million in genera-fund-supported bonds — and an additional $40 million in federal funds and public private partnerships — to support the Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway. This effort will provide high-speed internet across the state to benefit businesses, health care, public safety and education, starting with Eastern Kentucky. Beshear said the “expansion of the high-speed network will advance educational and economic development opportunities to those areas of the state that do not currently have access” and “allow educators to expand their use of rich teaching resources.”
The governor also recognized that in addition to high-speed broadband, students and teachers need updated devices to personalize learning, access digital and online resources and collaborate with one another. Beshear proposed $50 million in general-fund-supported bonds for instructional device replacement. This investment is critical as there has not been direct state investment in classroom technology since the 2006-08 budget.
Focusing on the importance of STEM education, Beshear’s budget would allocate $2 million to expand enrollment at Western Kentucky University’s Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science, a residential high school for juniors and seniors who wish to pursue advanced STEM degrees. At Gatton Academy, students take both high school courses and college classes and graduate with a high school diploma and 60 college credits. These funds will support 80 additional students.
Lastly, the governor’s budget proposal contains an increase of $19.8 million for Professional Development and Extended School Services programs that provide students with extra instructional assistance and support the implementation and development of successful educational practices.
Now it is up to the Kentucky legislature to consider the governor’s proposal and to pass final funding allocations for education programs.