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Guest opinion
Stop backsliding in education funding

by Robert F. Sexton

Kentucky is speeding down a road that leads to education neglect. The reason? The continuing absence of the kind of financial commitment it will take to truly move our schools ahead.

The latest example came earlier this year with the legislature’s passage of a budget that, according to projections, will be short by about $500 million next year. I say latest example because Kentucky has been going in reverse in funding education for several years, and the new budget does nothing to change that direction.

It isn’t easy to explain the problems with Kentucky’s investment in education when education funding actually went up a little in this year’s budget. The reason is that the state’s total revenue, which includes the education portion, is woefully inadequate and has been for many years.

The slide in education investment, which started in the mid-1990s, results in a drop compared to the rest of the nation.

In education investments on a per-pupil basis, Kentucky ranks 38th—not far from where we were in the 1980s. Kentucky invests $1,200 less per student than the average state. If we invested at the average level, our education spending would be $746 million more than it is.

Compared to states surrounding us, we rank seventh out of eight (Tennessee is at the bottom). Kentucky invests $1,200 per student less than Indiana and $1,300 less than West Virginia. Are our kids worth less? Are they easier or less expensive to teach than kids in West Virginia and Indiana? Not by a long shot.

One obvious example of harm from our backward investment approach is technology. After a big early investment that put us second in the nation in technology infrastructure, our ranking has dropped to 48th, and “soon we’ll be last,” say education officials.

Other examples abound. Rewards for high-performing schools: gone. Regional help for school improvement: gone. Teacher training: cut. Vocational education, minority recruitment, support for school councils, gifted and talented education, writing programs, teaching for students who need extra time, textbooks: all cut.

The state’s education investment has not even kept up with inflation. But Kentuckians’ aspirations for their children, for economic growth, and for first-rate schools haven’t diminished. Failure to invest guarantees our failure in meeting these goals.

We can’t go backward in education and forward in creating good jobs. It is time to shift out of reverse and move our state ahead by adequately funding our schools.

Robert F. Sexton is executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, based in Lexington.

WIRE scholarship deadline near
Women in Rural Electrification (Kentucky W.I.R.E.) is taking applications for $1,000 scholarships. The scholarships are open to any eligible student whose family is served by a Kentucky electric cooperative and has at least 60 hours of credits at a Kentucky college or university by the start of the fall term. W.I.R.E. will award three scholarships. The deadline for application is June 15. For an application form, go to www.kaec.org and click on the link at the bottom of the New Info box, or call your local electric cooperative or the Kentucky Living office.

It’s State Fair entry time
Now’s the time to prepare competitive entries for the Kentucky State Fair, which will be held August 18-28 at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center in Louisville. Twenty-nine departments and thousands of categories offer the chance to show nearly every talent. Entries must be submitted by July 1, except for livestock (July 8 deadline) and rabbits (July 19). Some categories are restricted to 4-H and FFA members. Rules, forms, and guidelines can be found in the free 2005 Kentucky State Fair Entry Catalog. View it online at www.kystatefair.org or write to Kentucky State Fair Entry Department, P.O. Box 37130, Louisville, KY 40233-7130.

Bluegrass Bash
The International Bluegrass Music Museum presents the 2nd annual River of Music Party in Owensboro on June 23-25 at five sites around the city.

Musical performances begin June 23 with Hall of Honor Legends Josh Graves and Kenny Baker, Jimmy Martin and The Sunny Mountain Boys, Jesse McReynolds and The Virginia Boys, Curly Seckler with Tom Gray and friends, and Rarely Herd.

June 24 performances include Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Tim O’Brien, Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time, Audie Blaylock and Redline, Uncle Earl, Stringtown, and The Betweeners.

June 25 will feature Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, Mountain Heart, The Kruger Brothers, The Grascals, Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike, Ronnie Reno and The Reno Tradition, and The Dismembered Tennesseans.

As part of the event, showings of hour-long documentaries at a film festival take place 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. all three days. The films and videos document pre-1954 pioneers of bluegrass. Five world premieres will be presented about Jimmy Martin, the late Art Stamper, Wade Mainer, Curly Seckler, and Jesse McReynolds.

The event includes food concessions, trade show vendors, educational forums, workshops, photography, art, and artifact exhibits. There are half-price discounts on admission for military personnel and students with I.D. Children 12 and under will be admitted free. Free dry camping will be provided with two- or three-day purchase.

For more info, contact the International Bluegrass Music Museum at (888) 692-2656 or visit www.bluegrass-museum.org.

Bluegrass bicycling
Bicyclers interested in traveling the state will want the book Backroad Bicycling in Kentucky’s Bluegrass: 25 Rides in the Bluegrass Region, Lower Kentucky Valley, Central Highlands, and More, by Lexington author George Garber and published by Countryman Press, $16.95. The subtitle sums up the 196-page book of detailed route descriptions, maps, photos, and lodging suggestions. For more info, phone (802) 457-4826 or go online at www.countrymanpress.com.

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