LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The General Assembly boosted per-pupil funding for schools across Kentucky and provided financial help for struggling rural school districts in its $22 billion biennial budget passed Monday, but several education programs had their budgets cut or eliminated entirely.

As the budget heads to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk for his consideration, here’s a closer look at how the state’s education system fared in the two-year spending plan that takes effect July 1:

Spending increases

Kentucky school districts will get $4,000 per student in Support Education Excellence in Kentucky dollars in the upcoming biennium, up from $3,981 per pupil in the current biennial budget. Legislators also rejected Bevin’s proposed spending cuts in school transportation expenses, appropriating $214.8 million in each fiscal year as it had in the current budget.

The budget also allocates $826.1 million in the upcoming biennium to cover pension contributions for school districts, $39.8 million more than the previous budget, and $59.5 million in fiscal year 2019 to cover health care costs for retired teachers who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

Lawmakers provided $10.1 million in fiscal year 2019 to offset plummeting unmined mineral taxes for struggling coalfield school districts. Knott County received the most aid among those districts with nearly $1.8 million.

For other struggling school districts that have or anticipate substantial revenue shortfalls, the General Assembly reopened the current budget and created a $7 million revolving loan fund that allows school districts to apply for financial help. Loans are limited to $500,000 over a five-year period. Lawmakers also provided $35.1 million more in equalization funding to put growing districts on better financial footing.

In the wake of a Jan. 23 shooting at Marshall County High School that left two students dead and several others injured, the legislature increased funding for the state’s Safe Schools Program to $26 million in the budget. That’s $2.2 million more than currently budgeted for the program.

The budget also includes $2 million to cover advanced placement and international baccalaureate testing for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch as well as $3.5 million for technology improvements for school districts in coal-producing counties, the latter of which is the same amount allocated in the current biennial spending plan.

Legislators also boosted funding for AdvanceKentucky, which expands access to college-level  work for high school students, by $1 million in the budget and for the Save the Children/Rural Literacy Program by $717,200.

Budget cuts

While funding for a number of programs was either improved or protected, several others weren’t as fortunate.

The General Assembly eliminated funding for textbooks, professional development, a grant program meant to help schools increase student achievement, pay for experienced teachers who act as classroom mentors, financial assistance for teachers who earn college credit or attend professional development seminars, and a program to help improve writing education.

Instructional resources and professional development alone received nearly $57.3 million in the current budget.

Lawmakers also cut funding for the Georgia Chaffee Teenage Parent Program, a Jefferson County Public Schools program to keep teen mothers in school. TAPP schools received $455,800 in the current budget.

Other programs that were on the legislature’s chopping block include $144,600 for the Appalachian Learning Disabled Tutoring Program, nearly $2.5 million for ACT and ACT WorkKeys testing and $1.4 million for the Virtual Learning Program.

The two-year spending plan also makes several cuts to education programs. Those include:

  • $11.3 million less for preschools
  • $6.5 million less for Family Resource and Youth Services Centers
  • $3.2 million less for extended school services
  • $2.8 million less to evaluate the conditions of school facilities
  • $2.1 million less for Read to Achieve
  • $1.3 million less for the State Agency Children Program
  • $827,800 less for gifted and talented education
  • $676,400 less for teacher recruitment and retention
  • $669,200 less for the Mathematics Achievement Fund
  • $233,500 less for the Governor’s Scholars Program
  • $185,400 less for local school district life insurance
  • $180,600 less for food services
  • $172,800 less for community education
  • $65,600 less for the Blind/Deaf Residential Travel Program
  • $53,000 less for elementary arts and humanities
  • $51,200 less for the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development
  • $12,400 less for the Visually Impaired Preschool Services Program

The budget also does not include language that allows the Kentucky Department of Education to request additional SEEK dollars if the budget does not provide enough money to fully fund the program. In the current budget, KDE could ask for up to $10 million in each fiscal year if SEEK funding is insufficient.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that Every 1 Reads was cut in the budget bill passed April 2. That program was vetoed by Bevin after lawmakers passed the current two-year spending plan in 2018.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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