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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools are lobbying state lawmakers to restore education funding, and you can look in your child's backpack to see why. Books are so old and so few, in some cases, that students aren't allowed to bring them home.
"I think parents are aware that it's bad. I don't think they know how bad," says Gina Ziegler, Goal Clarity Coach at Kerrick Elementary School. "They don't know how critical it is."
Ziegler's job is to work with all teachers at Kerrick to make sure children have the resources they need to learn. When Kentucky adopted Common Core standards, it changed the way children are taught--requiring more analytical thinking and conceptual learning, instead of memorization. Ziegler says, "Those same texts that we used ten years ago are not cutting it now."
The school is, in some cases, still using ten-year-old materials, and Ziegler says that forces teachers to spend their time searching for supplemental material. "We can either spend our time gathering the tools to do it or we can create lessons where we're putting it to work," Ziegler adds, "And, right now, we're just gathering materials."
Another problem--students aren't allowed to take books home because the school simply can't afford to lose them or have them damaged. "I've seen classrooms where four kids are sharing one book because they are so old and so torn, that we have six copies of books for 24 students," Ziegler says.
School leaders email each other each summer to move books around the district to help fill needs. The problem started in the 2008 recession, when the state cut funding for books, professional development and extended learning. That funding has never been restored, and the gap is widening at a pace of three million dollars a year for books alone in JCPS.
If Kerrick wants to buy new Language Arts books for students third through fifth grade, it costs $87 per student. The district gives them only $20 per student. That's a $67 gap, and it's only one subject area and ignores entirely kindergarten through second grade.
Ziegler says the situation is at a crisis. "We're using textbooks that are ten years old. People don't use cell phones that are ten years old," she says. "Our students deserve to have something that is relevant."
This problem is not unique to Kerrick or to JCPS. Funding cuts are impacting every school district in Kentucky.
JCPS Cordelia Hardin says, "As far as I'm concerned, and I believe, the board, textbooks are a priority. We may have to cut other areas to make sure we have textbooks. What a student needs is the priority of this district."
Ziegler says schools look at testing information to figure out which subject areas have the greatest need for new materials. Kerrick's language arts scores were dropping, so the school begged JCPS, as Ziegler put it, to help pay for new materials. The district delivered.
But, CFO Cordelia Hardin admits it's possible schools aren't telling the district their real needs because school leaders know the money isn't there to meet those needs.
Hardin says, "It does take money in order to educate a child. We need to make sure everyone understands the investment needs to be made at the elementary, middle, and high school level, so we don't pay for it later when children are not college or career ready."
Hardin points to efforts to find money for books--including not filling vacant administrative positions and reducing transportation costs this fiscal year by four million dollars.
Still, she says, the problem is not going away and will only get worse if the state doesn't restore funding.
WDRB's Candyce Clifft asked Ziegler how she would explain to parents why schools with tens of thousands of dollars in their budget can't afford to buy books for students. Ziegler replied, "We have to purchase a principal. We have to purchase staff based on the number of students we have. We have to buy toilet paper and paper towels for the bathroom, and what is left is not a lot of money, and we have to make some real critical decisions about it."
The crisis, Ziegler says, would truly be felt when students leave school unprepared for life. "We have to have something that we can put in our students' hands--in front of them, at their desks--that will prepare them to be college and career ready," Ziegler says. "And at this point, we do not have it."
It's important to note that JCPS gets about 14 hundred dollars less than the average state allocation per student. And, when you compare spending per budget category, JCPS is almost identical to other districts in the state. CFO Hardin adds that digital materials cost almost as much as hard copies, so that option would not be a big cost saving alternative for the district.