By Durward Narramore
The Kentucky Education Reform Act was in its early years when I became a board member of Jenkins Independent school district. It was implemented after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the public education system was inequitable and inadequate.
Kentucky infused millions of dollars into a new structure for Kentucky’s education system and revamped funding at the state and local levels to achieve funding equity among districts. Our children were beginning to get the education they deserved and we were making real and measurable gains.
But 23 years later, we are setting the stage for going backward in education. Once again, inequity has raised its ugly head and the gap it creates will defeat all the gains we have made unless funding is restored to fiscal year 2009 levels with an accurate student count.
Using a 20th-century tax code for funding a 21st-century education is impossible. Tax reform is the solution for education funding. State and local governments must work together to find a better way to fund education and help alleviate the increased tax burden being placed on the local taxpayers.
School districts can no longer cut their budgets to make ends meet. Districts are down to the bare bones, doing more with less. Teachers and administrators have not gotten real salary increases in years. And those who have received raises have gotten them through local tax increases. Staff deserve a fair wage if we expect to keep them on the front lines teaching our children.
Superintendents also must be paid a fair wage. Being the leader – and sometimes the target – in the district, the superintendent has one of the most complicated jobs in the public sector. And now board members have been targeted by the public, who, by and large, do not see the complete picture about the lack of funding that has forced boards to increase taxes at the local level.
Explain why, as our board has had to do, that you need more money for schools in a region where approximately 10,000 jobs have been lost. Do you increase funding at the local level or do you pay for the district’s necessities and just try to survive?
The letters to our legislators calling for proper funding and the new study to provide facts about inequity are first steps. Some legislators recognize there is a failure in funding at the state level, including legislators who crafted KERA. Others seem to be offended by the increased public attention about the need for more money.
A “Don’t poke the bear” warning shows a genuine misunderstanding of the problem. But rhetoric must stop and work must begin. We must make sure the governor, legislators and taxpayers realize the worth of spending money on what is important: the education of Kentucky’s children.
Public education must be in the front of the funding stream. The education of our children will return exponentially more to our state than the state can ever invest.
I believe now is the time to make sure our children come first in Kentucky.
— Narramore also serves as chairman of the Jenkins Independent Board of Education