By Ted Edmonds, 96th District Representative
It’s rare for any bill to be passed so early in our legislative session when we have so much on our plate. It’s even more rare for any bill to be passed in only five days, the minimum possible under our constitution. That’s exactly what we did last week, though, in order to snare potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for our schools.
House Bill 176 creates a number of options for low-performing schools — those who fall at the very bottom of No Child Left Behind test scores or who graduate less than 60 percent of their students. Those options range from removing the principal and school council to completely closing the school and moving the students to schools that are doing better. That last one is a drastic step that’s more suited toward urban districts, but the point is that we’re giving school districts what they need to raise student achievement.
This would have been a good bill anyway, but we pushed it through quickly because the state Department of Education had a January 19 deadline to submit an application for Race to the Top funds. That federal pool of around $200 million could be used to improve all schools, not just low-performing ones. A key component to our application, though, was making sure we had a plan in place to improve schools at the bottom.
Our budget subcommittees were also very busy this past week, gathering the information needed from the executive branch agencies to write our upcoming budget. Governor Beshear is submitting us his state spending recommendations this week following his budget address on Tuesday night.
The latest projections, according to the governor, show us with about $1.5 billion less in revenue than we spent last year, when the expected growth in Medicaid and other areas is factored in. It’s easy to say that we simply need to cut state government, but it’s much more difficult to determine where those cuts should be and how deep they should be. Cutting the money we spend on prosecutors, for instance, could mean more money spent on law enforcement later on. Less money for public defenders, meanwhile, could result in higher prison costs. Cutting too many state workers costs us more in unemployment and Medicaid. Simply put, there are no easy solutions.
It’s because of the difficult questions that I serve in Frankfort, though, and I am honored to do so. I can say strongly enough how much I need to hear from you, the citizens, to help me decide the future direction of our commonwealth. Please call our legislative message line at 1-800-372-7181, or call my office at 502-564-8100, ext. 818.