LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Gov. Matt Bevin on Wednesday vetoed a budget line item that would have sent about $450,000 in state funds to Jefferson County Public Schools for district's Every 1 Reads program.

Bevin did not eliminate the funding, but his move instead gives the Kentucky Department of Education discretion in deciding who gets the money and how it is to be spent.

"There have been questions about how that money has been used in the past and this veto does nothing more than provide the necessary discretion to the Department of Education to ensure that the funding is used for its intended purpose," said Jessica Ditto, a spokeswoman for Bevin.

Bevin's veto comes after WDRB reported in February that $4 million in state funds earmarked for the reading program has instead been spent on school nurses over the last eight years.

The General Assembly had included Every 1 Reads funding at $225,700 in 2017 and 2018, contingent on the preparation of a detailed report from the Kentucky Board of Education on program's use of the money and performance outcomes, but Bevin's veto strikes that language from the budget bill.

Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said Thursday her agency will consult with the state Finance and Administration Cabinet to confirm the status of all the education items included in the budget.

District officials were not immediately able on Thursday morning to comment on Bevin's veto and what it means for the district.

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.

"We're hoping there will be closer communication between the districts and the Kentucky Department of Education on these," Heiner said. "I'll call them supplemental or special project funds. We're hoping for a closer relationship so that we don't have a repeat of this in future years."

In a March 29 letter to Heiner, obtained by WDRB through an open records request, Harmon wrote 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."

"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 initial loss of funding for Every 1 Reads approved by the General Assembly already caused JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens to recommend the district to come up with the money to replace the reduction in funding in order to continue paying the salaries of nurses.

During a budget development update shared with the school board Tuesday, Hargens has included $290,000 as a pending budget request.

Hargens' recommendations will not be up for school board approval until May 24, when the district's tentative budget for 2016-17 will be voted on.

District officials have 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 Cordelia Hardin, the district's chief financial officer.


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

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.