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House budget fully funds transportation, includes small SEEK increases

Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, (left) and House Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy, R-Paducah

Kentucky School Advocate
February 2024

By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer

The new two-year state budget is closer to becoming law. The House passed its version of the budget Feb. 1 and sent the funding plan off to the Senate which will make changes before it passes its version and sends the bill back to the House.

The budget, House Bill 6, proposes increases for public education, including fully funding district transportation costs in the second year of the biennium. If the funding remains in the final version, it would be the first time since 2005 that the state has funded district transportation at 100% as required under state law.

The first year of the proposed budget funds transportation at 80%. In the current budget, transportation is funded at about 55% of a district’s costs.  

While education advocates celebrated the state fully funding transportation, they were less enthusiastic about other parts of the House leadership’s funding plan.

The proposed budget includes a 4% increase to SEEK base funding in the first year of the budget and 2% in the second year. That would increase per-pupil funding to $4,368 in fiscal year 2025 and $4,455 per student in fiscal year 2026.

Unlike Gov. Andy Beshear’s proposed budget, which called for an 11% across-the-board-raise for school employees, the House version does not mandate raises. Instead, the House “encourages local school districts to provide certified and classified staff a salary or compensation increase.”

While introducing the bill on the House floor less than 24 hours after the bill passed in a special-called Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting, Rep. Kim Banta, R-Ft. Mitchell, a former Kenton County Schools administrator, said that funding increases would “allow districts more flexibility to address decreased enrollment and teacher raises.”

The budget bill says that failure “to make adequate progress” in recruiting and retaining employees could lead to the “closure of individual schools, the takeover of an individual board of education, or the potential consolidation of boards of education.”

The bill also requires the Department of Education to file an annual report on the salary increase percentages or dollar amount for classified and certified employees.  

KSBA Executive Director Kerri Schelling said she appreciates that the House’s budget affirms that school boards should have the autonomy to allocate resources based on local needs, however “addressing unprecedented personnel shortages will ultimately require significantly more investment.”

Schelling also expressed concerns about budget language that requires school boards to use their limited resources to make “adequate progress” in recruiting and keeping employees or face disproportionate consequences.

Superintendents and administrators also worry the proposed SEEK increase is too small to fund significant raises needed to keep and attract employees.

In a survey by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, 88% of superintendents who responded said the proposed SEEK increases would likely only fund 0 to 3% raises. The survey was completed before the increase in transportation funding.

Bullitt County Schools’ Superintendent Jesse Bacon told WHAS11 that the House’s original budget proposal that funded up to 90% of transportation costs would amount to about a 3% across-the-board-raise in in his district.

“And that’s putting every additional dollar that we have into salaries and compensation benefits – which doesn’t keep up with the cost of inflation right now,” he said. “We’ve cut about all we can cut. And that’s the biggest issue.”

Rex Booth, Russellville Independent High School principal, took to Facebook to share a series of videos about how the House budget would impact his district.

While Booth said he’s appreciative for any increase in funding, the House’s proposal is not enough.

“The language in House Bill 6 states districts may receive consequences if they cannot show progress in recruitment and retention. However, if our district utilizes every penny of the SEEK increase to provide raises, a new teacher is set to only make $800 more per year.”

During debate on the House floor, Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, defended including consolidation or takeover in the bill, saying lawmakers were just restating the law.

“If you don’t take care of your school system, there’s about two options, state takeover or consolidate,” he said. “We're just making sure everybody understands that.”

Petrie went on to say that if districts focused more on student proficiency in reading, math and civics, as opposed to athletic facilities, they would be “cash flush beyond belief.”

He also emphasized the proposed budget increases total education funding by $1.3 billion, adding that public education is “well-supported” in the bill.

The House budget’s other proposals for education funding, all of which were part of KSBA’s legislative priorities, include:

• Funds full day kindergarten.

• Equalizes previously authorized recallable nickels at 100% and new nickels at 25%, a KBSA legislative priority.

• Extends the provisions of 2022’s HB 678 that allow school boards to expedite construction projects instead of waiting for Kentucky Department of Education approval. In KSBA’s 2024 legislative survey of school board members and superintendents, nearly 90% of respondents supported extending or making permanent the measure.

• Learning and Results Services (LARS) programs are mostly funded at the same levels in the proposed House budget as the current budget. The proposal includes a $1.5 million increase for the Kentucky Educational Collaborative for State Agency Children, $11 million in each of the next two years for implementing the Read to Succeed Act (Senate Bill 9, 2022) and $8 million total for additional Family Resource and Youth Service Centers that currently serve more than one school.

• Increases funding for the School Safety and Resiliency Act (2019) allowing districts to be reimbursed for costs associated with school resource officers (capping at $20,000 per school) for a total of $34.5 million over the biennium.

The budget passed the House by a vote of 77-19. Petrie noted that the House’s passage is just the beginning of the budget process.

“This is the House version,” Petrie said. “There will be a Senate version that I suspect will be different. And then there will be a conference committee that will be entirely different, most likely. We continue to listen for input.”

Photo: Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, (left) and House Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, look over various proposals for the state’s next biennial budget. Provided by the Legislative Research Commission

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