Kentucky education commissioner warns budget cuts could force ca - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky education commissioner warns budget cuts could force cash-strapped school districts to close

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Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said entire school districts could be in danger of closing if proposed budget cuts go through.

Pruitt made the comment during a hearing Wednesday for a House committee that is reviewing Gov. Matt Bevin's proposed spending plan.

"I'm sure that everybody knows this, but education is an investment," Pruitt said, adding that it is an investment the state is slowly depleting.

"We do know that funds are very minimal, that they are strapped. We also have to think about the long-term effects."

Bevin's proposed budget does keep base classroom spending, based on the so-called SEEK formula, at previous levels, which is $3,981 per pupil. But in order to devote more than $3 billion to the ailing pension system, Bevin's plan does cut more than $220 million from programs that support education, including more than $138 million from transportation.

Combined with other budget pressures, Pruitt said it may be enough to push some rural school districts, particularly in eastern Kentucky, over the edge.

"We have some districts that, frankly, could be insolvent with some of these cuts," Pruitt said. "But they may be insolvent either way, because we have some districts right now that are living paycheck to paycheck."

The chair of the house Education committee, Rep. James "Bam" Carney (R-Campbellsville), said legislators "can't allow" school districts to close. Carney said he appreciates Bevin's efforts to shore up the pension system, but he is looking for ways to restore education funding.

"I think everything is on the table right now," Carney said. "Revenue measures are probably on the table for many folks that haven't been before."

Carney said the long-term solution is tax reform, but until that happens, he said he will look for Band-Aids to try and stop the bleeding.

He said one short-term fix may be legislation that creates a special fund to offer loans to struggling school districts. Carney said he is not yet sure where that money would come from but specifically mentioned looking at eliminating some tax exemptions to create more revenue.

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