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Time-traveling budgets won’t carry education to the future

Throwbacks — the practice of nostalgically looking back and trying to recapture the glory of days gone by — may be great when it comes to sports jerseys and social media photographs, but we don’t need to be looking back when it comes to our education system.

Sadly, that is exactly what is happening here in Kentucky and 11 other states, according to a recent report from CBS News and analysis by the think-tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“The U.S. economy has largely recovered from the Great Recession, but one segment is still struggling to regain its financial footing: America’s public schools,” according to the news report. “State funding for public K-12 schools remains lower than before the recession in a number of states, including five where teachers have gone on strike in the last year.”

Kentucky ranked third on the list, which showed per-student state funding, adjusted for inflation, declined from 2008 to 2019 by 13 percent. Texas led the pack with a 20-percent decrease, followed by Oklahoma and Alabama tied at 15-percent.

That means we are essentially balancing the state budget on the backs of our children and their futures.

State funding accounts for just short of half of the budget for public schools. Local revenue — mostly driven by property taxes — represents about 45 percent of a school’s budget, with less than 10 percent coming from federal funding.

That means the state’s funding is critical to create an equitable system for all students.

“Even though some local communities have stepped up to fill the gap left by declines in state funding, that raises questions about unequal spending between low- and high-income communities,” according to the news report. “Because local school funding is provided by property taxes, it means wealthier communities have a deeper pot of funds for their schools.”

This lack of a level playing field hurts our students and our communities. The baseline of expectations for quality public education shouldn’t vary from community to community.

All of Kentucky’s public-school students deserve a strong education foundation, regardless of if they live in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, the flatlands of Bowling Green or any points in between.

A side effect of this funding time travel is we are seeing a significant talent drain when it comes to teachers, both in terms of keeping the good ones and attracting new professionals.

CBS news reports from late 2018 showed “teachers are earning almost 2 percent less than they did in 1999 and 5 percent less than their 2009 pay, according to the U.S. Department of Education. … Comparing teacher pay with other professions helps explain why fewer students are opting to go into the field. The national average starting salary for a teacher is $38,617, according to the National Education Association. But the average salary for recent college grads overall is about $50,400 annually, consulting firm Korn Ferry found.”

Kentucky’s legislative session ends in just about three weeks, on March 31, but overall education funding isn’t likely to be addressed, as this is a non-budget year and the pension overhaul remains perhaps the biggest obstacle on the horizon.

That doesn’t make the issue any less important.

If Kentucky wants to truly be competitive nationally and globally, we must invest in the education of our children. We owe it to them. We owe it to our future.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Advocate-Messenger and Danville Living Magazine. He can be reached at (859) 759-0095 or by email at mike.caldwell@amnews.com.