When legislators walk through the Capitol rotunda to start a new legislative session on Jan. 4 they will be in an unfamiliar position – crafting a new state budget with money to spend.
“It’s unusual over the last 20 years that they truly have a sizable amount of money that they might be able to do big new things with,” said KSBA’s Director of Advocacy Eric Kennedy.
As lawmakers construct a new two-year state budget, they will benefit from last year’s budget surplus, a projected increase in state revenue and an influx of federal funds from coronavirus relief and a new infrastructure bill.
But even with more money to spend, the legislature isn’t likely to fund everything on public education’s wish list – especially since the state still has billions in unfunded pension liabilities – and public education will be competing with other interests for the money.
“Education advocates and school boards should be realistic that they won’t just give us all this money that they have right now,” Kennedy said. “However, it’s also realistic to think that some education needs will get some increased investment.”
Those could include permanent funding for all-day kindergarten, more reimbursement for districts’ transportation expenses and other items recommended by the School Funding Task Force. (See story at this link
“Those are things that we’re advocating for,” he said. “And those are some things that have a good chance of happening this session, given the money they’ll have.”
But before lawmakers get to work on the state budget, they may have to first decide how to redraw the state’s congressional and state legislative districts. Now that the 2020 U.S. Census is complete, the state must reapportion its legislative seats, but as of late November the legislature’s Republican leadership and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear had not come to an agreement on holding a special session for redistricting. If no session is held, the work would likely come in the first days of the regular session. Senate leaders said in that case they would likely push back the Jan. 7 election filing deadline.
Once the state House and Senate districts are set, and lawmakers know who is running for which seats, then the real work of the 2022 legislative session will begin.To save or to spend?
By the time the new two-year budget goes into effect in July, the state could have more than $3 billion in its rainy-day fund.
The Consensus Forecasting Group, which predicts how much the state will have in revenue, predicted in October that by the end of June 2022 the state could have a $1.5 billion surplus. That money is in addition to the $1.1 billion surplus the state had at the end of this past fiscal year.
Those surpluses, added to the money that was already in the state’s rainy-day fund, would mean the state could have $3.2 billion in its savings account, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.
In addition, the state is also slated to get an influx of federal money from the recently passed infrastructure bill and has remaining coronavirus relief money.
With that much money, many people have ideas on how – or whether – to spend it.
Soon after the session begins, Gov. Andy Beshear will lay out his budget priorities in a budget address. Beshear has already said he will ask legislators to increase pay for teachers and other school workers.
“I continue to believe that all of our educators in Kentucky are underpaid, and it’s far past time for a raise,” Beshear said in November at the Kentucky Department of Education’s Education Summit.
“Everybody deserves to be a little bit better, especially when we are going to be in the best budgetary situation in the past 30 or 40 years,” he said. “It is time to invest.”
Beshear said his proposed budget will also include other investments in education such as technology and textbooks.
“Our public schools are vastly underfunded,” he said.
The Senate Republican leadership also previewed its plans for the budget at a late November press conference in Bowling Green. Acknowledging the Commonwealth’s strong financial position, Senate leaders said they will still have to make hard choices.
“We’re looking at what’s going to be the best bang for our buck in a state that has a 40-something billion in unfunded liability in our pension system,” said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.
It’s unclear whether the legislature would support teacher raises, but Sen. Robert Stivers said it is time to consider changes to the state employee’s salary system because it has not kept up with salaries in the private sector, leading employees to leave and creating a “void in intellectual infrastructure.”
“Everybody would love to do pay raises,” he said. “But you have to do things in the context of the whole.”
Stivers also noted that the Teachers’ Retirement System of Kentucky (TRS) has requested a $200 million increase in its appropriation.
The senators also floated the idea of putting a $1 billion lump sum payment into the state’s pension systems. That would reduce the percentage of an employee’s salary that employers have to pay into the pension system, Wilson said.
Any increase in funding the TRS would help public education by giving teachers stability in their pension system, Kennedy said.
“KSBA has always considered the state investment in the Teachers Retirement System to be part of the investment in education, therefore, we support that,” Kennedy said.SBDM reform
In addition to the budget, other education-related bills are likely to be considered during the legislative session.
Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, has said that one of the Senate’s priority bills will be to make changes to school-based decision making councils (SBDMs). The bill, which had not been filed as of late November, is expected to give superintendents final say on hiring principals and on selecting curriculum after consulting with SBDMs.
“We are going to need support from lots of people to get that done,” Givens said, during a meeting of the legislature’s Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity.
Changes to SBDMs have consistently ranked high in KSBA’s legislative surveys for many years, and was a frequent topic of discussion at this fall’s regional meetings, Kennedy said.
The legislature’s Interim Joint Education Committee heard testimony on the possible changes at its November meeting. KSBA President Davonna Page, Shelby County Superintendent Sally Sugg and Kennedy joined Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, in testifying before the committee.
A bill making some changes has passed the Senate three times in recent years, but has yet to make it across the finish line, Schickel noted.
“I think the legislation this year holds even extra urgency because the eyes of so many parents and so many citizens right now are on our school system with questions around curriculum and other things,” he said.
Page, a Russellville Independent board member who previously served as a parent member on an SBDM, said that in some ways SBDMs remove locally elected school board members and superintendents from decision making for the schools they govern.
“The result can be seen in varying approaches to curriculum, and even divergent goals across schools within the same district,” she said. “I’m not here today to selfishly advocate for more decisions to be made by boards, but instead to advocate for a better process that will strengthen student achievement and foster the connection between schools in our communities.”
Sugg noted that she has been a local board member, Kentucky Department of Education associate commissioner and superintendent, and in those roles she has worked with SBDMs
“What I have found over all of those different viewpoints and experiences is that the highest performing districts and the best functioning schools and districts are using a collaborative approach,” she said. “And if there isn't a coherent approach that is facilitated, at the very least by the district office, by the school board and also by the business community, then those students have big gaps in their learning.”
Rep. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, former KSBA president and Boone County Schools board member, said the changes would strengthen school boards.
“I will say that school board members are the truly elected officials in the community,” he said. “They’re on the ballot. And they’re responsible to their community for what their school does, whether it succeeds or fails.” School board division redistricting
County school boards should watch how and when the legislature completes redistricting. KSBA Director of Advocacy Eric Kennedy says that boards should wait until the state sets the new boundaries then review their own board divisions, alongside county fiscal courts who will be redrawing their divisions at that time as well.
“If the precinct lines might change, or if the county board of elections changes the precinct lines because of anything the state does, boards will want to know that first because school board divisions have to align with precincts,” Kennedy said. “We cannot make precincts change for us, we have to change for them.”
Kennedy urged boards to look at the data from the 2020 U.S. Census and then consult with the local area development district and fiscal court to help with redrawing the divisions.2022 Regular Session timeline
Jan. 4: The legislature convenes
Jan. 7: Filing deadline for legislative seats
Feb. 22: Last day for new bill requests
Feb. 28: Last day to fill House bills
March 2: Last day to fill new Senate bills
March 31-April 12: Veto period
April 14: Sine Die (last day of session)