Sunday, August 29, 2010

Addressing priorities without RTTT funding

In a family, you find a way to take care of priorities with whatever money you have. If your son outgrows his coat, you buy him one that fits, even if it means lunching on peanut butter sandwiches for the next three months. If your daughter needs braces, you get it done, even if it means continuing to drive a battered car with a broken air conditioner and 150,000 miles on it. Finding a way and paying the essential bills is what parents do.

As a state, it's time to do the same thing. To equip our children for college and for good jobs, we have to deliver on our new standards, and the efforts that requires have to be our financial priority.

Race to the Top funding would have made that work much easier, but the work must still be done.  It's time to start figuring out how.

For the district and school-level work, RTTT would have added $17.5 million a year for five years. That’s about $26 a student, and about 0.3 percent of average current spending at the district level. To implement Kentucky's RTTT strategies, that funding should go mainly for staff time, including time to learn about our new standards, develop skills in teaching to those standards, implement new evaluation systems that promote teacher growth, and start using a new data system that supports better instruction.

If districts count delivering on the standards as a top priority, they must find ways to move the needed resources. The things they cut will not necessarily be easy to let go: the hard choices are between a good investment and a better investment, and the challenge will deciding how to fund strong work on the standards first and keep as many other good efforts as possible on track beyond that.

For the state-level work, the issue is again $17.5 million a year for five years. In the RTTT application, that money was slated to support professional development around the standards, around new evaluation approaches, and around the data system, and also for costs of creating the data system, creating the evaluation system, strengthening teacher preparation, and bringing stronger support to Kentucky’s weakest schools.

The current state budget gives KDE about $22 million for 2010-11 (and less than that for 2011-12) for all the work done by Department staff. The Commissioner and the state board cannot, even with the tightest budgeting, find a way to free those funds. For the state share, legislators will have to make the hard choices.

What are the state level options? Commissioner Holiday has identified about $10 million in small education grants that go for good things, but perhaps should now go for the better things we identified in our RTTT proposal. Following the earlier example of a family keeping an aging car on the road, putting off some school building replacements and renovations may also be a way to free up resources. Those are first suggestions, but there may be other parts of education spending or total state spending that would be better choices for reduction.

To be blunt, my own preference is for raising added revenue, but to be just as blunt, our state leaders need to find the will to support Senate Bill 1 implementation even if they are not ready to do it through tax changes.

For both district and state leaders, the choices will not be easy or comfortable, but they are essential. Our children need for us to prepare them for college and for careers in the new economy, and we need to the adult generation that gets that job done.

A personal note: last Wednesday, Bob Sexton asked me to take a look at the implications of not receiving Race to the Top funding and call him back with questions in the form of an interview that would provide his thoughts on how to move forward. By the time I was ready for that next conversation, he was gone. The post above is far weaker without his wisdom and I know that the weeks ahead will be full of other tasks that miss his insight. For all of us, figuring out to continue Bob's work without his wisdom will be achingly hard. For me, writing about this topic had to be my first step.


  1. Susan, your blunt comments are right on. Can we look to our leaders in Frankfort to make the hard choices and fund SB1 as it should be? To hold all educators -- and their students -- to the high expectations we need to meet? Will they be the statesmen we need, or the politicians worried about being re-elected? I worry,

  2. Susan, Thanks for your excellent analysis of our situation!


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