Education is vital, but Kentucky children are struggling academically due to inadequate funding. According to Kentucky Youth Advocates Kids Count data for 2023, only 46% of children are ready for Kindergarten and only 36% of eighth-grade students are proficient in math. Attracting and retaining quality teachers is part of the problem. The National Education Association lists Kentucky 44th in average teacher starting pay. Instead of increasing funding, the state has been cutting it. One example is school bussing. Per state law, full transportation costs should be covered by the state via the SEEK funding formula. In 2021 however, districts received $297 less per pupil than what the SEEK formula requires.
In real dollars (adjusted for inflation), SEEK funding has been decreasing since at least 2008, and that funding burden has been increasingly placed on local communities, with poorer and more rural districts disproportionately affected. Daviess County superintendent Matt Robbins said Daviess taxpayers pay more than $2 million annually because of absent state funds (Messenger-Inquirer, November 17, 2023).
Meanwhile, Kentucky had a nearly one billion dollar surplus in 2022. Governor Beshear has requested higher teacher pay and universal pre-K, though it seems questionable how much support this will receive. I contacted a couple state legislators about this. One blamed Biden for inflation, stated teacher pay was up to local school boards, and mentioned the need to cut spending. Perhaps he was not aware of a 1989 Kentucky Supreme Court judgement stating the responsibility to provide adequate education “cannot be shifted to local counties and local school districts” (Messinger-Inquirer, November 17, 2023). Another legislator told me the goal for the surplus was to eventually eliminate taxes.
The world is changing quickly. We should be doubling down on education instead of undercutting it. As a physician, I know that socioeconomic status is a predictor of health. Without strong schools, I fear our health and our socioeconomic future will be poor.
Steven Roby, MD