FRANKFORT – Late last week, as budget talks stalled, I joined with many of my fellow House members to defend a stand that ought to be common sense: Education must be our top priority, and if funding is available, schools should never be cut.
Ever since the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990, the commonwealth has re-dedicated itself to making sure our children and young adults have the tools they need to compete here and around the world.
The results speak for themselves. Numerous studies show that we are no longer near the bottom in state rankings, when “Thank God for Mississippi” was our unofficial motto. We have come a long way in a short time, and are among the national leaders in some academic areas.
Floyd County’s success in the classroom is a perfect example of what can happen when we focus on excellence, and our region’s college-age students are continuing that trend at the postsecondary level. I cannot support anything that would harm this progress.
That, in short, is the main point of disagreement that House leaders and I have as we try to negotiate a compromise budget with the Senate and, ultimately, Governor Bevin. We in the House do not think education should be cut, not with more than $800 million in new revenue expected over the next two years.
The House budget showed there is a better way. Our plan addressed the pension problems by giving our retirement systems everything they say they need for the next two years, and our plan provided more than the governor’s and Senate’s. Our chamber was able to do it without cutting any part of education and with less debt than the governor’s budget. We even funded a new plan that would make it possible for high school seniors to attend a KCTCS school tuition-free for two years, after accounting for scholarships and grants. We also left the “Rainy Day” fund with more money than it has ever had.
On Thursday last week, Governor Bevin decided to start cutting this year’s budget without legislative approval by not providing some of the money our public colleges and universities were expecting.
As a former Attorney General, I do not think he can take this step, and current Attorney General Andy Beshear agrees and is poised to take action if the order is not reversed. This would set a dangerous precedent if allowed, because a governor could choose to withhold money from any state-supported program. I cannot believe that is what our founders intended, and in this case, it will cause families of college students to pay as much as $1,000 extra a year in tuition if the cutting continues.
For now, other House and Senate leaders and I will see if we can find a compromise in time for the last legislative day, which is April 12th. In the meantime, it is worth emphasizing that the General Assembly did pass several far-reaching laws this year. Those will do such things as reduce the number of repeat DUI offenders on our highways; give the state and local governments a new tool to work more closely with the private sector to build large projects; and set the state on a path to test rape kits much more quickly.
On Friday, we approved a measure that will enable many Class D felons to have that crime expunged from their record five years after they complete their sentence. This should make it easier for these citizens to get a job or volunteer in their child’s school, activities they may be barred from doing for a crime that may have happened even decades earlier. The House has voted for this concept for years, and it is good to see that it has finally been approved.
I will cover other legislation and the outcome of budget talks in another column. For now, please don’t hesitate to let me know your views. My email is [email protected], and the toll-free message line for legislators is 800-372-7181.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.