Wednesday, November 29, 2017

K-12 targeted initiatives have lost key funding

In 2008, Kentucky’s state budget supported a thoughtful set of targeted programs that served students directly or equipped teachers to serve students more effectively. By 2018, almost all of those programs have been cut or removed from the budget entirely.

More than $28 million has been taken from programs that had 2008 funding of $1 million or more:
  • -$6.6 million from Read to Achieve grants
  • -$6.3 million from Extended School Services
  • -$5.0 million from Instructional Resources (Textbooks)
  • -$3.2 million from the Professional Growth Fund
  • -$3.1 million from Professional Development
  • -$1.5 million from the Mathematics Achievement Fund
  • -$0.9 million from the State Agency Children program
  • -$0.5 million from the Teacher Recruitment and Retention program
  • -$0.5 million from the Gifted and Talented program
  • -$0.2 million from Teacher Academies
  • -$0.2 million from the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development
  • -$0.1 million from the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund
Three programs with 2008 funding of $1 million or more have held steady or grown slightly, with:
  • No change to funding for the Safe Schools program
  • $0.2 million added for salary supplements for Nationally Board Certified Teachers
  • $0.3 million added for Family Resource and Youth Services Centers
Taken together, the many reductions and the few increases net out at more than $27 million of reductions in state support for learning strategies and for teaching quality.

In addition, programs funded for $33.5 million are no longer shown as budget line items at all. The vanished items included:
  • -$19.5 million from the Kentucky Education Technology (KETS)
  • -$8.4 million from the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS)
  • -$5.6 million from Highly Skilled Educators
It seems likely that the Department continues to spend some dollars on those needs, drawing from the parts of its appropriation that are not controlled by specific line items. For example, the technology part of the Department website reports that “KDE provides a yearly funding stream based on Adjusted Average Daily Attendance (AADA) as reported on the Superintendent's Annual Attendance Report (SAAR).” Whatever the Department is allocating, concerned citizens cannot readily see what those amounts are, whether they are increasing or decreasing, or whether they meet or fall short of the learning needs.

Overall, these targeted investments, meant to sustain statewide strategies for building excellence with equity,  are substantially weaker in 2018 than they were a decade ago.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Readiness investments have been mixed, inconsistent

Since 2009, Kentucky has talked a good game about wanting all students to graduate from high school ready for college, career, or both. Our state budget reveals a mixed record on backing up those talking points with needed resources.

On the one hand, Kentucky has added funding for two kinds of college-level work:
  • $10 million for dual credit scholarships: The 2016 budget created dual credit scholarships for high school students to take one or two college-level courses. Those dollars could allow almost 31,000 students could take two three-hour courses apiece at participating KCTCS schools, public universities, and independent institutions. If Kentucky sustains that commitment, it can make a big difference in student opportunity to understand higher education and show their readiness to succeed at that level.
  • $1.2 million for Advanced Placement incentives: Since 2015, Kentucky has also contributed state resources to AdvanceKentucky, which supports high schools in the initial years of a major push to expand participation in Advanced Placement courses and assessments. Like the dual credit scholarships, AdvanceKentucky gives students a chance to take on college-level work and show their capacity to succeed at that level. At its best, AdvanceKentucky changes the school culture so that AP investments continue long after the program’s startup funding ends.
On the other hand, our state budgets have reduced and hidden other relevant funding, and we've never funded or fully implemented an important 2008 commitment:
  • A 3% cut to state operated vocational schools: Kentucky has cut $700,000 from its funding for Area Technical Centers since 2008, weakening career-preparation opportunities for students in the very years when career readiness was announced as a state priority.
  • Hidden and optional funding for local vocational schools: For many years, the state budget bill included a line item for funding the technical centers operated by local school districts. That line item disappeared in the 2014 budget bill. So far, the Department of Education has continued to send dollars to districts for this work, and the annual totals have been just under $12 million, in keeping with the past budget lines. For legal purposes, though, the money could stop at any time, or it could be reduced to fund other priorities. For citizens, the spending is no longer visible in the budget and only discoverable by downloading “state grant allocation” spreadsheets from the Department’s website.  
  • A 12% cut for college admissions testing: Since 2008, Kentucky has cut $200,000 from its line item funding for admissions testing. 2017’s Senate Bill 1 amended the law so that it requires a college admissions test but no longer specifies the ACT. The Department of Education continues to fund the test as part of statewide accountability assessments, but the funding must be coming from some other reduction in education services.
  • Never-Funded AP and IB Fees: Since 2008, KRS 160.348 has specified that public school students who take Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses “shall have the cost of the examinations paid by the Kentucky Department of Education,” but that does not happen. Citing a lack of legislative appropriation of those costs, the Department instead directs districts to waive those fees for students eligible for free or reduced price meals. While the Department was able to locate funds to reimburse those costs for the free/reduced meal students for 2017, it has not announced a commitment to do the same for 2018. For students who do not meet the F/R meal requirements, there appears to be no state assistance available.

Kentucky has a bold vision of transforming high schools so that every student has an accessible on-ramp to further study and/or career skills. We need to back up that vision with clear and consistent investments to make that access a reality.

Monday, November 27, 2017

SEEK has become less adequate, less equitable

The SEEK formula (explained in yesterday's post) is designed to be Kentucky's main approach to providing both adequate funding and equitable funding, but its most important features have been losing strength over time. Here are four major concerns: 

From 2012 to 2017, the guarantee rose by $100 per pupil, from $3,881 to $3,981. To keep up with inflation, the guarantee would have needed to increase by another $171, to $4,152. 

The 2012 to 1017 $100 increase was paid for by a $147 per pupil increase in local funding and a $47 decrease in state funding per pupil. The local share went up because property assessments grew by an average of $49,000 per pupil, and the local share is based on the 30¢ per $100 of taxable property. 

By law, the SEEK formula should fund full transportation costs calculated using a statewide formula. For 2017, the formula called for transportation funding of nearly $353 million, but the state budget provided only $214.8 million. That failure to fully fund the formula meant that districts have received an average of $230 less per pupil than legally required. 

Revenue above the Tier 1 maximum counts as Tier 2 revenue, and it does not receive any state equalization. The absence of equalization matters quite a bit. As noted earlier, a 20¢ unequalized tax rate will produce:
  • $600 added revenue for a district with $300,000 in property per pupil
  • $1,000 added revenue in a district with $500,000 in property per pupil
  • $1,400 added revenue in a district with $700,000 in property per pupil
In Tier 2, districts with lower wealth brings in less revenue to use in serving their students, even when they set tax rates just like those in districts with more taxable property.

In 2017, 171 of Kentucky’s 173 school districts set rates above their Tier 1 maximum. 148 districts went further above the Tier 1 maximum than they had gone in 2012, meaning they made a greater effort to obtain Tier 2 dollars. On average, districts increased their rates by 5.8¢, and that increase generated an average of $306 in local funding per student—but the lack of equalization meant that students in some districts received far more and others far less than that average amount.

These erosions of Kentucky's SEEK investments are making it harder to implement and sustain the bold strategies our students and our state need.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

What is SEEK, Anyway? An Four-Step Explanation

The SEEK formula is the main source of K-12 education funding for Kentucky students. SEEK is short for Support Education Excellence in Kentucky. It works by combining state and local dollars, in four main steps.

SEEK begins by guaranteeing base funding for every student. The illustration uses a base guarantee of $4,000 (rounding slightly up from the actual current guarantee of $3,981).

Every district must raise 30¢ per $100 of taxable property as its local contribution.

District A has $300,000 in taxable property per pupil, so the 30¢ rate raises $900. The state provides the additional $3,100 needed to complete the $4,000 guarantee.

District B has $500,000 in taxable property per student and raises $1,500, and the state provides the $2,500 to reach $4,000.

District C has $700,000 in taxable property per student and raises $2,100, so the state provides $1,900 to get to the guaranteed $4,000.

If the base guarantee is $4,000, a district will receive an extra:
  • $600 for each at-risk student eligible for free lunches (15% of base)
  • $960 for each student with communications disabilities (24% of base)
  • $4,680 for each student with moderate disabilities (117% of base)
  • $9,400 for each student with severe disabilities (235% of base)
  • $384 for each limited English proficiency student (9.6% of base)
  • $3,900 for each home/hospital services student (base minus $100)
  • A transportation amount based on analysis of transportation costs

For simplicity, the illustration shows the three districts getting identical $2,000 funding, but districts are rarely identical. The real amounts depend on each district’s count of students with each type of need.

If districts set taxes higher than the 30¢ minimum, the state equalizes that at 150% of statewide average property per pupil.

In this example, average taxable property is $500,000 per student, and 150% of that is $750,000. A 12¢ tax rate on $750,000 can raise $900.

With a 12¢ increase:
  • District A ($300,0000 in taxable property) will raise $360 locally and receive $540 from the state to get to the equalized $900
  • District B ($500,000) will raises $600 and get $300 from the state to reach the $900 total
  • District C ($700,000) will raise $840 and get $60 from the state to reach the $900 total
Tier 1 allows a district to raise up to 15% more than its SEEK base and add-on funding. In the illustration, $900 is 15% of each district’s earlier $6,000.

If districts set tax rates above the Tier 1 maximum, they receive no additional equalization from the state. Those local-only dollars count as Tier 2 funding.

A 20¢ increase in the tax rate will add:
  • $600 per student for District A ($300,0000 in taxable property)
  • $1,000 per student for District B ($500,000)
  • $1,400 per student in District C ($700,000)
With no equalization, the same 20¢ tax rate raises the most money in the district with the most taxable property wealth.

Tier 2 also has a maximum: districts are allowed to add up to 30% of the revenue they receive from their base, add-on, and Tier 1 funding.

The local share of SEEK funding does not have to be raised by taxing property. This is a tricky point, but worth knowing.

The SEEK rules require districts to raise revenue equal to 30¢ per $100 of property as their share of the base guarantee, but they can choose to raise some of those dollars with other taxes, like taxes on motor vehicles, utilities, or occupational licenses.

Tier 1 and Tier 2 revenue can also be raised using those other taxes.

A four-page printable version of this explanation is also available for download and sharing.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Five Years: Gaps Moved In The Wrong Direction

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston|

Most of Kentucky’s achievement gaps grew worse between 2012 and 2017. While most historically underserved groups did see improvement, their more privileged classmates saw more improvement.

For example, averaging all assessed subjects, 2012 Kentucky results showed:

  • 25.6 percent proficient or distinguished results for African American students
  • 47.0 percent proficient or distinguished results for white (non-Hispanic) students
  • Resulting in a 21.5 point gap between the two groups

By 2017, equivalent results showed:

  • 29.3 percent proficient or distinguished results for African American students
  • 54.8 percent proficient or distinguished results for white (non-Hispanic) students
  • Resulting in an increased 25.5 point gap between the two groups

Here’s how the gaps shifted for selected student groups:

As noted in yesterday’s post, weighted average results improved for all of these groups except English learners. It is not that these groups have no progress. It is, however, a report that Kentucky has not narrowed most of its achievement gaps. In most cases, there has better progress for groups that were already ahead than for the groups that need to be accelerating and catching up. Where a gap has narrowed, the five-year improvement has been quite small.

Kentucky’s new accountability system calls for important new emphasis on these gaps, and that added focus is clearly needed. To meet those goals, Kentucky will need bolder strategies, stronger efforts, and deeper investments.

Gap patterns by subject are shown in more detail below.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Five Years: Student Group Results Improved Too Slowly

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

2012 to 2017 KPREP results showed proficiency progress for most historically underserved student groups, but that progress was quite slow. As shown in the chart below, English learners lost ground, and African American students gained less than five points (looking at a weighted average of all tested subjects).

This small progress is better than a pattern of losses, but if improvement continues at this limited pace, reaching full proficiency will take:

  • 30 years for students of two or more races
  • 36 years for students eligible for free/reduced meals
  • 68 years for Hispanic students
  • 69 years for students with identified disabilities and IEPs
  • 96 years for African American students

As with the slow pace for students overall (discussed in yesterday’s post), these group results reflect progress, but not the kind of progress we need for all students who are now in our schools and who must be equipped to play central roles in building our commonwealth’s future. Changing these patterns will require bolder strategies, stronger efforts, and deeper investments.

Results for each group are shown in more detail below.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Proficiency over Five Years: Right Direction, Wrong Pace

| Post by Susan Perkins Weston |

From 2012 to 2017, Kentucky increased proficiency by an average of 6.9 points, or about 1.4 points per year. That’s based on considering results for all students, combined in a weighted average.

That kind of improvement has us moving in the right direction, but at the wrong pace. If we continue at that pace, we will not be able to move halfway to 100 percent proficiency by 2030, which means we will not meet the goals set by the Kentucky Board of Education at its August 2017 meeting.

Put another way, we will not reach 100 percent proficiency until 2053. That will be three generations after the Rose decision and eight generations after the people of Kentucky adopted a constitutional commitment to an efficient system of common schools.

The chart below shows a more detailed picture, showing all subjects tested in both 2012 and 2017.

This is a picture that shows progress, but not the kind of progress we need to deliver for this generation of students, the ones we hope will play central roles in building a stronger future for our commonwealth. To deliver for those students, Kentucky will need bolder strategies, stronger efforts, and deeper investments in learning.

Notes for Number Lovers: Percent proficient or distinguished for each subject come from the school report card portal. For the weighted average I've used above, elementary and middle school writing and language mechanics were combined into one subject score, with writing getting a 80% weight and language mechanics 20%: the same distribution the Department of Education used in Unbridled Learning calculations. Then those two scores and the other 11 subjects were summed together and divided by 13 to summarize the overall trend.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Five insights from the Early Childhood Cost of Quality study process

by Cory Curl 

Today, the Prichard Committee released the results of its Early Childhood Cost of Quality study. The study has been a year-long effort to provide state and local leaders with solid information they can use when making budget decisions designed to increase access to quality learning environments for Kentucky’s youngest children.

Throughout this year, Prichard Committee staff have worked with a statewide advisory group, national experts, and other partners through the process of collecting data and developing cost models. We also spent a lot of time interviewing school district preschool directors and child care center directors to learn about how they target limited resources to provide quality learning environments.

The highlight of the year, by far, was visiting with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers – and their teachers – throughout the Commonwealth.

Here are five of the insights we learned through this journey:

1. Quality can come down to two basic factors - encouraging teacher-student interactions that promote learning, and supporting the specialized needs of children and their families. The first factor is well-established in the research, reinforcing the need for smaller teacher-student ratios and professional training and compensation for teachers. Our visits elevated the urgent need for the second dimension of quality. We visited a few child care centers with professional staff and space for therapeutic services for children with special needs. We visited a few school districts with staff who support families in building safe, nurturing home environments for preschool children. The need for both was clear. As a result, we built in these types of staff and services into our cost models at higher levels of quality.

2. The majority of children served in Kentucky’s preschool program have special needs. Kentucky school districts administer the state preschool program, which serves nearly 10,000 3- and 4-year olds with special needs (including around 650 with severe or multiple disabilities) and about 9,200 4-year olds in families with incomes below 160% of the federal poverty level. Classes may include as many as 20 children, and often more than half have special needs. Each classroom typically has one lead teacher and one instructional assistant. The lead teacher must hold a bachelor’s degree and interdisciplinary early childhood education (IECE) credential, which includes special education. Given the population of students served in the program, some districts have prioritized having smaller class sizes and/or additional assistants with training in special education. Our cost model builds in smaller class sizes at higher levels of quality, additional instructional assistants, and specialists to service specific child needs.

3. Quality child care is often out of reach for low-income working families. The study, our visits, and the cost model all reinforced the incredible financial challenge of sustaining a child care center, as well as the personal financial challenge to directors, teachers, and other staff who work in centers with low compensation, often without health insurance or other benefits. Today, 50% of Kentuckians live in child care deserts and many struggle to afford quality care. To help families work and to enhance quality, Kentucky’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) reimburses child care centers for providing early care and education to about 27,000 babies, toddlers, and preschoolers in working families who earn less than 160% of the federal poverty level. Our child care cost model found that the cost of providing high-quality care and education in child care centers is much higher than the state’s reimbursement rates, particularly for babies and toddlers. This was not surprising. What did surprise us was learning how much CCAP-eligible families still pay for child care through a co-pay and  what we call a “double co-pay”. For example, a center may charge $22/day for tuition for 3-year olds. The state reimbursement rate may be $18/day, of which parents pay a co-pay of $10/day. They may also pay the $4/day “double co-pay” –- the difference between the reimbursement rate and the tuition rate. Ultimately, the state reimburses the center $8/day ($160/month) while the parent pays $14/day ($280/month). Faced with these costs, low-income working families may opt to enroll their children in centers based only on what they can afford rather than quality.

4. Local communities can design options to work for a variety of families. As we interviewed and traveled throughout the state, we saw a lot of variation across local communities in the way they are providing quality early childhood experiences to meet families’ needs. Some school districts emphasize small class sizes in a half-day preschool program while others stretch resources to offer full-day programs. Partnerships across child care, school districts, and Head Start better coordinate resources and provide more flexibility for families. Many districts allocate substantial resources to provide transportation for preschool students to remove barriers to enrollment. We concluded that there is no one-size-fits-all model for quality early care and education, and that local leaders use funds to support options specific to needs in their community.

5. Early childhood leaders want to better serve more families. We designed the study to illuminate the cost drivers for quality early childhood environments. In our interviews with preschool and child care directors, we also asked a general question about their aspirations. If they had more funding, how would they prioritize it? Many times, they answered with a quick and emphatic, “Serve more families and children in need!” This was another reminder to us that both quality and opportunity are essential for Kentucky’s children.

Our hope is that the Early Childhood Cost of Quality study informs the critical decisions in Frankfort and in local communities about the level of investment needed for each child to thrive in quality early learning environments. We are grateful to all of those who provided guidance, assistance, information, and encouragement along the journey.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Transforming school climate & culture (Notes from the annual meeting)

Here's Prichard Committee member Justin Bathon's reporting on some great collaborative thinking at Monday's Prichard Committee meeting, crossposted from

At the recent annual meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky the focus turned to transforming school climate and culture. This focus included a specific desired outcome of culture and climates which specifically promote equity of opportunities.

Over the course of a day and a wonderful agenda, the Committee and guests heard from students, educators, national scholars, journalists, and a former U.S. Ambassador on strengthening school climate and culture. This focus transforming school climate and culture links to a recently adopted three-year strategic plan adopted at the meeting by the 100+ members of the Prichard Committee.

In an effort to translate this learning into specific recommendations for educators and, in particular, the leaders of schools the Prichard Committee and guests worked hard to identify specific suggestions across a variety of domains of climate and culture in schools. The attendees identified the following 11 domains of the challenge.

1. More student autonomy/agency
2. Teacher autonomy & agency
3. Intentional communication with parents
4. More authentic project based learning/projects
5. Nurture and respect educational professionals
6. Authentic/meaningful teacher administrator dialogue
7. Collaborative community partnerships
8. Equal academic/sports emphasis
9. Equity of opportunity and inclusive excellence
10. Engaging all students
11. State accountability of climate

Across eight of these domains, the attendees sought to work collaboratively to identify eight specific suggestions for a total of 64 specific suggestions for educators and school leaders to improve school culture and climate toward equity of opportunity. This task was formatted into Lotus Blossom coordinated through the collaborative use of Google Docs and Google Draw. A picture of the final result is below. In the middle is the core challenge (bright green) surrounded by the 8 domains of the task (yellow). Then, each domain is explored in more detail on the petals of the lotus blossom flower (the yellow box surrounded by mostly green boxes). Finally, the colored boxes within each petal represent our identified practices that we wish to share with school leaders and other educators as the potentially most impactful near-term implementation concepts.

 Full Lotus Blossom (zoom in):

Once the 64 ideas were generated, we again worked collaboratively to identify our suggestions for the most impactful concepts that educators and school leaders might employ (the blue, red, orange and purple in the image). The following is the result of those impactful suggestions across the 8 domains examined in the full Lotus Blossom activity.

1. More student autonomy/agency
a) Assume all students can do the best work and have high expectations for all learners
b) Employ more student internships and work-based learning experiences

2. Increased teacher autonomy & agency
a) Incentive teacher innovation and creativity through new supports from schools and districts.
b) Encourage teacher ownership of professional learning communities
c) Provide teachers leadership opportunities within schools and districts

3. Intentional communication with parents
a) Ensure ongoing positive communication with parents rather than emphasizing the negative.
b) Co-design a communication plan with parents

4. More authentic project based learning/projects
a) Promote state, district, and school accountability systems that honors this authentic engagement work by students
b) Provide iterative feedback and opportunities for growth to both teachers and students engaged in authentic PBL

5. Nurture and respect educational professionals
a) Promote culturally responsive training and support for teachers
b) Respect educator mental health and personal time

6. Authentic/meaningful teacher administrator dialogue
a) More frequent formal opportunities for teacher-administrator dialogue in both 1:1 and group settings
b) More time flexibility in school schedules to promote dialogue

7. Collaborative community partnerships
a) Encourage reciprocal partnership where both schools and community members benefit.
b) Develop community asset maps to identify key resources for teachers to link to learning
c) Develop trust and partnership through ongoing authentic dialogue

8. Engaging all students
a) Engage students in high expectation, high yield activities such as leadership development opportunities
b) Build relationships with learners by promoting student voice and choice, specifically engaging in suggestions made by the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team across their multiple publications

These excellent suggestions emerged from a day of learning and an hour of work to make our learning tangible and specific. We think these suggestions are superb entry points for educators and schools looking to improve the school culture and climate for both the adults and children who inhabit these spaces. The progress that we collectively seek as Commonwealth for our schools and children is dependent on institutions capable of strong cultures which minimize institutionalism. We are convinced that such improvements to the schools of Kentucky are possible and we look forward to working with students, educators, and community members to make robust, equitable climates and cultures.