Friday, May 13, 2016

Forward Progress for Early Childhood

| by Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Executive Director |

The 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly proved to be an unexpected win for progress and innovation in early childhood.

Given the state’s significant state fiscal challenges, the session began with little hope for increasing the state’s investment in our youngest learners, and with a lot of questions about the continued support for the Commonwealth’s commitment to quality early childhood.

Nonetheless, early childhood advocates proposed key measures to help maintain the state’s momentum:

  • Align public preschool eligibility and child care assistance eligibility to the same Federal poverty level (FPL) and incrementally increase eligibility for both programs to 200% of FPL. Current preschool eligibility is 160% of FPL 
  • Current child care assistance eligibility is 150% of the 2011 FPL 
  • Incentivize collaboration between public preschool and private child care to increase participation in preschool and serve children in environments that best suit their needs.

In the end, the final budget approved by the Governor and General Assembly included significant progress – maintaining and increasing the state’s investment while also providing for innovations to build capacity and strengthen the system:

  • Increased child care assistance eligibility to 160% of current FPL, bringing it into alignment with the eligibility level for public preschool 
  • Maintained the full $90 million for preschool and maintained eligibility at 160% of FPL 
  • From the $90 million for preschool, carved out a set aside of $7.5 million in each year of the biennium to establish an incentive grant for local collaborations between school districts and private child care providers to increase participation in preschool. Statewide, enrollment has dropped significantly since 2010.

Source: Kentucky Department of Education Staff Note, June 2015

We are thrilled to see the incentive grant program for early childhood partnerships in the budget. This is a testament to the state’s commitment to innovation and partnership in early childhood. It will be important for Kentucky to make the most of this unique opportunity by building evidence of success by serving more young learners, increasing school readiness, and improving efficiency of programs.

The budget language calls on the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to administer the incentive grant program. It requires KDE to work with the Kentucky Board of Education, Early Childhood Advisory Council, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Child Care Advisory Council to design the program requirements. The next few months will be a pivotal time for these state agencies and advisory groups, as well as for school districts and child care providers to identify ways that they can partner to better serve young learners in full-day programs.

Why is it so important for school districts and child care providers to work together?

  • Increasing access to quality preschool programs helps increase kindergarten readiness and early success in school.
  • Public preschool should be increased in a way that does not crowd out private child care.
  • Public-private partnerships bring diversity into the system that helps build the state’s capacity to serve more children with high-quality services that meet families’ needs.
  • Partnerships between the public and private sectors encourage efficient and effective use of resources.

The idea of partnerships is not new in Kentucky.

  • In April 2015, in partnership with Metro United Way, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Kentucky Youth Advocates Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, the Kentucky Head Start Association, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Stars for Kids Now, we released a brief that detailed the benefits of partnerships and examples of models underway now in Kentucky.
  • In January 2016, the Early Childhood Study Group report recommended partnerships as a way to strengthen school readiness and ensure a stronger system for children from birth through third grade.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, or ideas about effective partnerships between school districts and child care providers. We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more about this unique opportunity for Kentucky’s young learners.

Monday, May 9, 2016

ESSA Update: The Details Matter for Equity

| by Cory Curl, Associate Executive Director |

As we discussed here late last year, the U.S. Congress approved a new version of the federal Elementary and Secondary Act. This version, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives states some more leeway in how they design their K-12 school and district accountability systems.

This move at the federal level gives us an opportunity to do what we do so well in Kentucky. We have a long history of working together to set clear, meaningful goals for student and school success. We then come together around a set of shared measures to show how schools and districts are – or are not – making progress toward these goals.

To that end, the Kentucky Department of Education has just concluded a series of 11 town hall meetings across the Commonwealth. At the town hall meetings, Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt and Associate Commissioner Rhonda Sims shared information about ESSA and listened to educators, parents, and students about how they define student and school success. Videos and summaries of these meetings are available online, along with comments that have been submitted via email.

The next few months will be an important time for Kentuckians to continue engaging in these conversations. Everyone has a seat at the table to contribute to the process of setting these goals and measures, which will have so much influence on the priorities that schools and districts set for years to come.

As the process unfolds, it will be critical to make sure that the goals and measures give schools and districts a big push to prioritize equity, making sure that every child gets what he or she needs to be successful in their next steps. This is the only way that Kentucky will be able to close the achievement gaps that have persisted for so long.

ESSA will help us on this front. While it gives states more flexibility in how they design their systems, it includes several requirements intended to ensure that equity is a priority for schools and districts.

To keep you informed on ESSA’s requirements and flexibilities, we are partnering with The Education Trust, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for high academic achievement for all students, particularly students of color and students in poverty. We have developed a series of fact sheets, below, to translate what’s in the federal law to what it means for us here in Kentucky.

The Every Student Succeeds Act: What’s In It? What Does it Mean for Equity?
Public Reporting

Friday, April 22, 2016

Postsecondary Funding - A Mixed Bag for Kentucky

Lawmakers in Frankfort concluded the 2016 Regular Session of the General Assembly in a flurry of activity during the waning hours of Friday April 15.  Putting aside the on-going legal dispute over current year cuts to postsecondary institutions and any potential vetoes the Governor might still make, the impacts of the enacted FY 2016-2018 budget on postsecondary education were a mixed bag.

On the one hand, most campuses received a 4.5% reduction, one-half of the 9% originally proposed by both the Governor and the Senate.  This amounts to a total reduction of $59.1 million over the biennium and represents an 18.2% decline in yearly funding since FY 2008, or $197 million.  Kentucky State University, in recognition of significant challenges facing the campus, was exempted from the funding reductions and received long-sought additional funds to fully match the federal requirement for land-grant programs.  Additionally, Western Kentucky University and Northern Kentucky University received additional appropriations in FY 2018 to help bring their state allocation per student to the average of the other regional campuses.  Overall, the enacted budget continues the pattern of state disinvestment in Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions that has persisted since 2008. A disinvestment whose costs are ultimately born by students and families.

On the other hand, student financial aid fared substantially better in the final compromise - increasing across all programs by $117.9 million over the biennium.  Need-based aid through the lottery-funded College Access Program (CAP) and Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG) increased by $55 million – which could serve up to 30,000 more financially disadvantaged students.  This represents significant increases to the main need-based programs that have been flat funded for nearly 10 years. Two new programs were created to help increase college access and attainment.  The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship received $25.3 million over the biennium and would provide essentially free tuition to recent high school graduates enrolled in associate’s degree programs at Kentucky community colleges, public universities and private colleges.  The Dual Credit Scholarship received $15 million over the biennium and will assist eligible high school students in paying for courses for which college and high school credit is awarded.

The budget also initiates the process by which postsecondary institutions will receive part of their funding based on performance against certain metrics.  Beginning in FY 2018, 5% of funding will be performance-based, rising to 15% in FY 2019 and 25% in FY 2020 and beyond.  A working group is established that will provide formula recommendations for the performance-based model to the Governor and General Assembly by December 1, 2016.  While in the early stages and not yet defined, this should be the first step in a process of recognizing that public investment will require accountability for progress toward well-defined system, institutional, and student outcomes and performance goals.

As the title of this post suggests – a mixed bag - perhaps one step backward and one step forward.  Issues of affordability and ensuring access to postsecondary opportunities for all Kentuckians’ make further reductions to institutional funding difficult to stomach.  A renewed commitment to state-funded financial aid programs, however, signals hope that perhaps progress is possible.

In the future, Kentucky needs to more effectively link decisions and policies on state appropriations, student aid and tuition to better define the expectations of institutions and students.  Lack of transparency in how postsecondary education is financed, and how the varying financial components interact, ultimately leads to less effective and efficient use of public resources and makes it more challenging for Kentuckians to reach their educational, economic, workforce, and civic potential.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Tale of Two Maps

| By Susan Perkins Weston |

I groaned when I first saw NPR's magnificent new map of district-level spending per pupil across the country, part of a newly launched "School Money" project. Then I looked a little closer.

The shot above zooms in on the Kentucky part of NPR's illustration, showing:
  • Red for spending 33% or more below national average (after a regional cost adjustment)
  • Orange for spending 10% or more below national average
  • Off-white for spending around average, between 10% below and 10% above
  • Light green for 10% or more above average
  • Dark green for 33% or more above average
My groan was because Kentucky doesn't offer much green. Owsley County is the single light green spot on the eastern side of the  map. Anchorage Independent provides the one dark green speck on the Kentucky map, nearly invisible inside Jefferson County. There really is bad news here, because most of our children receive school funding that isn't close to what's available across the nation.

But there is something else to see.

Owsley County has some of the deepest poverty in the nation --and the map shows it as having higher funding per pupil than most of the state. Owsley is surrounded by other Appalachian counties facing huge economic challenges, but those are the counties with funding most like national average.

In some ways, the NPR funding map looks a bit like a reverse-color version of this one from the Kids Count Data Center:

This one shows 2013 child poverty, with the darkest orange showing the deepest concentration of poverty, clustered heavily in the mountain counties. On this map, Owsley County has the highest child poverty rate in the state.

Comparing the two map shows that (roughly and with exceptions) Kentucky spends more on education where families have fewer financial resources to contribute. That, I submit, is a bit of good news inside Kentucky's low-funding bad news. Spending more for students who need more makes sense for a state committed to equipping each and every child to flourish and contribute as adults.

Added note: NPR's article and map are truly wonderful. The article gives a vivid sense of how much harm weak funding can do, and the map lets you click on any county to see its 2013 funding. Do check them out!

Monday, April 18, 2016

P-12 Funding: Action By the General Assembly

 | By Susan Perkins Weston | 

The General Assembly approved a budget on Friday, which is now awaiting action by Governor Bevin.  Unless the Governor vetoes some portions of the budget, it looks like the coming year will see a few major items get small increases and most parts of education funding continue without cuts. Here come some details.

The General Assembly’s budget provides a few increases in the 2017 Department of Education budget compared to 2016, including:
  • $14 million more for facilities
  • $9 million more for health insurance
  • $8 million more for the teacher retirement employer match
  • $4 million more for the SEEK base guarantee, Tier 1 and transportation
  • $2 million in new funding for 'a review of the classification of primary and secondary school buildings”

The General Assembly did not include line items for two other investments made in past years. That is, the budget does not explicitly show:
  • KETS funding that was budgeted at $23 million in 2016. The Kentucky Education Technology System has been shown as a line item in every budget since 1990.
  • Added staffing for vocational/technical schools budgeted at $3 million in 2016. Those dollars were new in the budget for the last biennium and were shown as an effort to build college and career readiness.

Those two changes may not quite be complete cuts, though.

That’s because there’s one more big change:
  • $28 million more is appropriated to the Department but not governed by a specific line item.
Since those dollars are not governed by a line item, they may turn out to go to technology, technical schools, or both. The amounts spent on those items could be higher or lower, and the uses could be exactly like past years or vary in small ways or vary in big ways.

Funding is unchanged for a number of other initiatives, including extended school services, family resource/youth service centers, gifted and talented, instructional resources (textbooks), the mathematics achievement fund, preschool program, professional development, Read to Achieve grants, safe schools , state agency children, and state-operated technical centers.

Outside the Department of Education budget, there are three other items that matter deeply to K-12 education:
  • $541,900 less for the Education Professional Standards Board
  • $13 million more for the School Facilities Construction Commission
  • $480 million more to the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System.
That $480 million is the largest number in this whole blog post, and there's room to argue that it ought to be cited right at the beginning.  It's here at the end because those dollars aren't about paying for 2017 education.  They're about compensation owed to those who taught our children in years past. Filling the KTRS shortfall is about finishing paying for 2016, 2015, 2014, and years and years and years of earlier work with students.  The shortfall is about money that owed and must be paid, and the state will be making quite a few more big payments in the coming years to finish paying off that debt.  However, those payments won't allow any 2017 school to add a book to its library or a laptop to its inventory, much less an added teacher or a teacher with a better paycheck –and that's why it's not the starting point for this summary of what's coming next in P-12 funding.

Our new PrichBlog summary shows added detail, including changes for the 2018 budget and a detail page on small programs that receive less than $5 million in funding. You can download that here, or view the complete budget bill by going here and clicking on the link that says HB303.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

P-12 Budgeting: Legislative Action So Far

 | By Susan Perkins Weston | 

Wednesday, the Senate Appropriation and Revenue Committee voted out its version of a budget for Kentucky P-12 education, and today the Senate as a whole voted approved that plan. Compared to the state budget for the current 2016 fiscal year, the Senate committee plan for 2017 would:
  • Increase SEEK base and Tier 1 funding, facilities, retirement and health insurance
  • Cut many line items that fund specific kinds of support for student learning
  • Eliminate entire line items, including KETS technology, Kentucky School for the Blind, and Kentucky School For the Deaf
  • Increase dollars not controlled by line items, giving the Department of Education the capacity to restore some of the funding from the eliminated line items
  • Leave a puzzle about the total funding for SEEK
Details follow, along with notes on how the Senate approach differs from the House edition.  A conference committee will almost certainly be needed to work out a final budget that can be enacted into law.

Compared to FY 2106's budget, the Senate version would provide:
  • $5 million more for the SEEK formula (when combined with growing local revenue, enough to continue the 2016 base guarantee of $3,981 for a growing number of pupils, along with student need add-ons and equalize local Tier I revenue)
  • $14 million more for SEEK facilities
  • $8 million more for the retirement match for teachers
  • $9 million more for health insurance for school district employees
 These increases match the budget plan approved by the House.

The Senate budget would offer:
  • $8 million less for preschool
  • $3 million less for family resource and youth service centers
  • $2 million less for ESS tutoring
  • $1.5 million less for textbooks and other instructional resources
  • $1.5 million less for Read to Achieve grants
  • $1.1 million less for professional development
  • $0.9 million less for children in state agency care
  • $0.9 million less for safe schools and alternative schools
  • $0.6 million less for gifted and talented programs
  • $1.7 million less from 14 smaller grants
The House version would not make these cuts, which are closely aligned with the Governor’s budget proposal for 9% cuts to many programs.

The Senate plan would provide no funding for some line items that appeared in the budget for 2016, including:
  • $23 million gone for KETS education technology
  • $10 million gone for Kentucky School for the Deaf
  • $7 million gone for Kentucky School for the Blind
  • $6 million gone from eight smaller grants
The House budget would eliminate the KETS line and the added vocational staffing, but continued the other line items.

Some of those eliminated line items may still receive support, drawing on $35 million that the Senate approach would provide to the Department of Education without assigning them a specific use, including:
  • $20 million for KDE Operations and Support Services that is not addressed in the line-item amounts
  • $15 million for KDE Learning and Results Services that is not addressed in the line item amounts
The House plan would offer non-line-item funding totaling $28 million.

The SEEK section of the budget includes thirteen line items that add up to more than the General Fund total. That is, the budget bill would:
  • Shows $3,036,462,000 in line items for SEEK base, Tier I, facilities, retirement, and other entries
  • Shows $3,035,747,400 as the SEEK General Fund total
  • Leaves $714,600 as the puzzling difference between the two
The House version would create the same puzzle!

You can download a PrichBlog comparison of the House and Senate  versions of the budget legislation here. Check out the legislative record on this bill here: click on the links for HCS and to download the full bill versions.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

SB 253 and HB 589: Charter Bills with A Few Differences

 | By Susan Perkins Weston |

Two charter bills filed this past Tuesday offer very similar rules for starting charter schools, but vary on details of who will be able to authorize those schools, how many schools can be opened, and where they can be located.

For Senate Bill 253, sponsored by Senators Wilson, Givens, and Seum, you can download our two-page Prichard analysis based on eight key questions here. For House Bill 589, sponsored by Representative Montell, a matching summary is here.  You can download each bill from the online legislative record here.

The rest of this post combines the two summaries, adding green highlighting when discussing places where the two bills handle issues differently. 

Charter schools will be accountable for “annual student achievement performance targets … set, in accordance with the state accountability system, by each public charter school in conjunction with its authorizer, and those measures shall be designed to help each school meet applicable federal, state, and authorizer goals.”

Charter schools will also propose their own performance frameworks that include indicators for student proficiency, student growth, achievement gaps, attendance, returning enrollment from year to year, college or career readiness, financial performance, and the board’s performance and stewardship, with the option of including additional indicators.

Possible Questions: Do targets “in accordance with the state accountability system” include annual measurable objectives, focus school criteria, and priority school criteria? Do they include professional growth and effectiveness system results?

  • Plans for identifying and serving gifted students and students who are academically behind (examples: gifted student service plans, response to intervention, extended school services, accelerated learning)
  • State assessments and school report card data
  • Health and safety laws (examples: vaccinations, emergency drills, criminal record checks, weapons rules, student seclusion and restraint rules)
  • Civil and disability rights (example: individual education plans (IEPs) as required by KRS 157.196)
  • KTRS/CERS retirement and state health insurance for employees
  • Financial audits and state purchasing rules
  • Open records and open meetings
Not required:
  • Free and reduced-price meals for low-income students
  • Student learning services, including primary talent pool, primary program, family resource and youth services centers, individual learning plans, college-level courses in high school, and class size caps
  • Program reviews and their use in accountability
  • Teacher certification and single salary schedule
  • 2% contingency reserve
Possible Questions: Do health requirements include physical activity in grades K-5? Do civil and disability rights include Title IX gender equality and alternate diplomas? Must school report card data be gathered using Infinite Campus?

Students of school age will be admitted if they apply to a charter school and are currently enrolled in a “needs improvement” school or if they receive free/reduced-price meals and live in the district where the school is located. Applicants will also be admitted if their siblings attend the school or their parents are teachers or administrators there, and they will be able to continue attending if they are already enrolled at the school. If a school has too few applicants who fit those rules, enrollment will be opened up for any student who lives in the district where the school is located to apply for admission until May 15. If the school has too many applicants, a lottery will be used, except that preference will go to students already enrolled, their siblings, and children whose parents work at the school.

Possible Question: When will lotteries be held for schools that are over capacity?

SB 253: A nine-member state-level Public Charter School Commission will authorize two charter schools per year. Two more charter schools per year will be authorized by local school boards: one by a school board in a county with an urban county government (Fayette) and one in a county with a consolidated local government (Jefferson or possibly Anchorage).

HB 589: A nine-member state-level Public Charter School Commission will authorize a maximum of two charter schools per year in a county with an urban county government (Fayette County) and two in a county with a consolidated local government (Jefferson County). Local school boards will be able to authorize charter schools with in their own districts’ attendance areas.

“Teachers, parents, school administrators, community residents, public organizations, private organizations, or a combination thereof” will be able to apply for a charter. The school will have to be “administered by a charter school board of directors” but the bill does not say it will have to be organized as a corporation. The school will have to apply for tax-exempt status within six months after charter approval. (A nonprofit education services provider can be chosen by the charter board to provide “educational design, implementation, or comprehensive management” of the school, but the charter board will still have final authority over policy and operations.)

Possible Question: If a charter applies for tax-exempt status and the application is denied, will it be allowed to continue operating?

SB 253: The number of charter schools will be capped at four in 2017-18, with four more in each of the next four years, for a total of twenty by 2021-22. 

HB 589: Charter schools authorized by the Commission will be capped at four in 2017-18, with four more in each of the next four years, for a total of twenty by 2021-22. Charters authorized by local boards will not be capped.

Enrollment will not be capped.

Section 1(3) of the bill says that a charter may only enroll students who live in the district where it is located. However, Section 12(2) calls for admission of students from “needs improvement” schools and children of the school’s teachers and administrators, without listing that residency requirement. Section 12(2) also call for admission of students who currently attend the school and their siblings, which could include those who have moved out of the district since their original enrollment.

Possible Questions: Can charter schools admit students who do not currently reside in the district? Can students continue attending a charter school if they move out of the district during the school year?

A school’s charter must be revoked if the school “does not meet, for three (3) consecutive years, state student performance measures adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education under KRS 158.6453, excluding nontested program reviews, and academic program requirements found in the charter school's contract.”

A school's charter may also be revoked for failure to make significant progress on state accountability measures and on performance measures set in each school’s contract, failure to meet generally accepted accounting standards, or “material and substantial violation” of the school’s charter contract provisions.

 For charter schools authorized by local school boards, funding will be negotiated between the charter school and the charter authorizer. That funding will at least be comparable to what is provided to other schools in the district where the charter school is located.

For charters authorized by the state commission, funding will match state guaranteed SEEK funding plus the school’s proportionate share of locally-raised “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” funding. The Kentucky Department of Education will pay those amounts to the charter school and deduct them from the school district’s funding.

Both kinds of charter schools will receive categorical funding generated by their students, and both will receive state on-behalf payments for employee health and certified employee retirement.

Charter schools will not receive state transportation funding, but local school districts will be required to transport charter school students from home to school and back.

Possible Questions: Will board-authorized schools receive dollars that districts do not allocate to schools, including those for itinerant staff, extra duty staff, operations and maintenance, central office leadership and other functions?