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Pruitt: I need your help
Kentucky School Advocate
By Madelynn Coldiron
Five months into the job as Kentucky’s education commissioner and Dr. Stephen Pruitt is hitting the road.
Pruitt made his first appearance before a mass gathering of school board members Feb. 27 during KSBA’s annual conference and asked them for help in what he’s calling a Student and School Success Listening Tour. At each of the 11 stops (see schedule below) across the state, he said he’ll talk about the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act and ask attendees, “What do we value in our schools? What do you want a new accountability system to really tell us? How do we know a school is successful and how are we going to measure it? I’m going to sit and listen.”
But, he told board teams at the conference, “I need all of you to show up. I want you to go grab the mic.”
“Funny word, Commonwealth – for the common good,” Pruitt added. “I need all of you to help us come together with our communities, with our schools and do the common good for our children.”
The new commissioner said he is excited about “the incredible opportunity” that the new federal law presents for Kentucky, since it provides for more local control and is less prescriptive.
“We can come up with an accountability system that can be the envy of the country,” but, he said, he needs input from board members and others to come up with a system that not only pinpoints weaknesses but recognizes successes – and is simpler than the current model.
Pruitt is negotiating his first legislative session, which promises budget cuts and a new education reform law. He listed the ways in which Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget would affect P-12 education, including an immediate loss of $18 million and a loss of $35.7 million in each of the next two fiscal years.
While the budget does not cut the basic funding formula for schools and does address the troubled Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, the other resulting cuts will hit many programs, from extended school services to school safety, he said.
Pruitt asked school board members for help in debunking the notion that cuts will not be felt beyond Frankfort: “Get away from calling the education budget the ‘KDE budget’ because it’s just not accurate: It’s really the P-12 budget.
“One of the things we’ve really been trying to do is help people see that cutting this budget the way that we are, while it may be for admirable reasons, is still going to potentially have diminishing returns in how we’re going to do in education,” he added.
Pruitt outlined the priorities to be shielded as much as possible from the cuts, starting with limiting the impact on students and teachers.
“Right now, we’ve suspended sending money out until we get an idea of exactly what’s happening with the budget,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we won’t actually have to make this big a cut … We’re going to try to be very transparent about it. So when we do have to make the decisions we have to make, we will make it very clear what the cuts are and what the decision was around why those cuts were made.”
He remained upbeat, however, as he gave school board members a pep talk, listing the reasons why Kentucky has been a national leader in educational improvement, thanking them for their role in it, and urging them to spread the good news.
Pruitt got board members involved in the celebration by reading off a list of 111 school districts that fulfilled the Commonwealth Commitment to increase the rate of college and career readiness of their district's high school graduates by 50 percent by 2015. He stayed afterward to pose for pictures with the board teams of those districts, and so board members could ask questions of any of the 11 senior staff members who accompanied him.
Student and School Success Listening Tour
6:30-8 p.m. local time; venues TBA
March 14 Shelbvyille
March 22 Campbellsville
March 29 Owensboro
March 31 Hazard
April 7 Lexington
April 11 Corbin
April 18 Kenton County
April 21 Louisville
April 25 Ashland
April 27 Bowling Green
April 28 Murray
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