Despite Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s stated intention to increase the education budget in Kentucky at all levels (in his 2014 State of the State Speech), there has been no recent state funding increase (see Spalding’s article or Bailey and Baumann’s full report from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy). Proportionally, there are also far fewer conversations about specific funding for postsecondary education, creating a troublesome gap that needs attention from educators and advocates across the state.
For the most part, K12 education dominates in the debates about state funding. These conversations often point to specific funding programs as evidence of the lack of support—for example, the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) program, a formula-driven allocation of state-provided funds for local school districts. In his 2014 speech, Governor Beshear noted, “preserving [existing] funding isn’t enough. From 2000 to 2008, SEEK grew an average of 3.4 percent each year. But from 2008 to 2014, it grew zero percent—even as enrollment expanded, costsincreased, and local support in some areas dropped” (“Kentucky Governor”).
That same year, Governor Beshear called for tax reform and expanded gaming to address issues of funding for education and other vital areas of need, including health care. He suggested that funding from these two sources might offer potential solutions to educational issues without “ignoring needs like textbooks and technology” and “pricing college out of reach” (“Kentucky Governor”). However, these proposed interventions did not make it to the legislature last year, and this year’s docket did not feature education as a primary issue, instead focusing on legislation on heroin, Medicaid, the pension system, and telecommunications (see Gregory’s interview and article from Kentucky Educational Television).
While K12 funding advocacy comes from non-profit organizations such as the Kentucky Education Association (see their “Summary of 2015 Legislative Issues”), less external support is visible for postsecondary education funding. This puts the burden of financial support—without additional or inflated tuition increases—onto individual institutions and their administration (for one example, see Sledge’s brief synopsis of this during a recent open forum conversation at the University of Louisville).
Because schools require state funding to support student education without, as Beshear noted, “pricing college out of reach,” then the state of Kentucky needs explicit legislative attention to increasing the state budget for education at all levels. As stakeholders in this scene, administrators, faculty, students, and families can participate by advocating for education funding to be a priority in the state legislature. Advocates for education, such as Governor Beshear, note that making education a legislative priority is needed in order to honor the gains Kentucky has made since our reform acts in 1990 and 1997 (for higher education specifically) and to maintain and pursue other existing statewide initiatives (e.g., on technology) that require resources to succeed and to move forward to keep up with 21st century educational advancements.
For more information on Kentucky’s legislative calendar and contacting individual legislators, the Kentucky Education Association hosts a landing page of helpful links.