LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  Jefferson County Public Schools' Every 1 Reads program would get half of the funding it previously received from the state if the General Assembly's two-year budget is approved in its entirety by Gov. Matt Bevin.

The program would be funded at $225,700 in 2017 and 2018, but it would be contingent on the preparation of a detailed report from the Kentucky Board of Education on program's use of the money and performance outcomes. 

The move by lawmakers to include the detailed report comes after WDRB reported in February that $4 million in state funds earmarked for the reading program has instead been spent on school nurses.

Bevin has the authority to veto any portion of the budget, and lawmakers will not be able to override that veto. 

WDRB's investigation revealed that the once-popular Every 1 Reads program has dwindled to a few hundred volunteers, but that JCPS has been using about $500,000 a year in state funding meant for the program on school nurses -- and state officials said they could find no evidence that the district notified them of the change, which happened in the 2008-09 year. 

Hal Heiner, secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, brought the matter to the attention of state Auditor Mike Harmon, saying he wanted to know if JCPS had misused the funds.

In a March 29 letter to Heiner, obtained by WDRB through an open records request, Harmon writes that his "understanding of the concerns regarding the JCPS Every 1 Reads program is that funds appropriated by the Kentucky General Assembly were utilized for school nursing salaries, which appeared to be inconsistent with the intent of providing funding for a reading intervention program at JCPS."

Harmon said it "appears there is a lack of clear guidance in existing law regarding the use of the Every 1 Reads funds."

"Although both JCPS and the KDE staff recognized the objective of the program is literacy intervention, we were unable to determine that the legislation appropriating these funds restrict the methods the district uses in meeting that objective," Harmon wrote.

Harmon recommended that "if the Kentucky General Assembly approves continued funding of this program, any intended restrictions on the use of those funds be clearly identified."

The two-year budget calls for the Kentucky Board of Education to "prepare and submit an annual report to the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue by Dec. 1 of each fiscal year detailing the use of funding and performance outcomes" for the following programs:

  • Every 1 Reads
  • Georgia Chaffee Teenage Parent Program
  • Lexington Hearing and Speech Center
  • Heuser Hearing and Language Academy
  • Visually Impaired Preschool Services Program
  • Teach for America

Meanwhile, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt told WDRB that his agency will now keep a closer eye on line-items in its budget like Every 1 Reads and require that school districts justify their use of such funds.

“We are going to make sure that the funds are being spent properly and that the funds are being focused in a direction that actually supports student achievement,” he said in a February interview.

The Every 1 Reads program began 12 years ago and still exists at about half of the district’s elementary schools, but today's program is merely a shadow of the broad, community-wide effort that once involved about 10,000 volunteers in the mid-2000s.

JCPS officials maintain that the district has always been transparent about the financials in its reporting.

District officials said using Every 1 Reads money for school nurses is not a stretch because students who have access to a nurse are less likely to be sent home for the day when a medical issue arises.

“If a child is not in school, you are not going to be able to help them read,” said Corelia Hardin, the district's chief financial officer.

Bevin has said he is reviewing the details of the final budget bill. He has until April 27 to decide whether to sign it as-is or veto any portion of the budget.

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached @tkonz on Twitter or at (502)585-0838.