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.