The current House budget bill provides $5,189,600 for highly skilled educators in fiscal year 2011, and $0 in fiscal year 2012.
Highly skilled educators are the Department's key agents for transforming our weakest schools. They've been successful in most schools that have needed assistance--leaving the smaller group of "persistently low performing" that seem to need a new set of strategies.
With new federal school improvement grants on the way, legislators might argue that highly skilled educators are no longer a priority for tight state funding.
It's not going to be that easy.
The Department has already taken the federal support into account, and made plans to refocus equipping schools to meet Kentucky's new college-and-career-ready standards. For the new professional development networks, the promised regional specialists in literacy and mathematics are supposed to funded out of the HSE budget.
At a legislative hearing two weeks ago, Commissioner Holliday explained his plan by noting that all schools are expected be low-performing against those higher expectations. Since the HSE mission is to assist weak schools, he argued that using those folks to tackle the standards was a legally respectable way to fund essential work.
If the HSE money also disappears, that plan can only work for the coming year, getting the networks off the ground with work on understanding and breaking down the new standards for classroom work. After the basics on the standards, though the networks are expected to spend two more years building statewide capacity to use formative assessments and other data to shape instruction. Without the HSE/specialists, that work will be close to impossible.
We know that tracking students and adjusting instruction based on individual results is what works to raise achievement and close gaps.
We know that for two decades teachers have wanted systematic support to become proficient at that core strategy.
We know that in Senate Bill 1, the legislature mandated that the Department finally, seriously, find the ways to meet the need.
We know that the Commissioner, in the face of budget devastation, had to dig deep to find any funding he could move to do what SB 1 requires, what teachers say is urgently needed, and research says will work for our students.
The HSE budget is the available funding for the most important undone work in all of Kentucky education. Are we really about to take that away?