An open letter to the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly:
With the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly in full swing and budget discussions taking place, one theme is clear: Kentucky’s financial situation is dark. At the Prichard Committee, however, we are focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel as we have always done in our work to build a stronger future for Kentuckians and their communities. We see this light as one that will bring the state and its citizens out of financial distress and poverty, as one that will lessen the scourge of the drug epidemic and the overcrowding of our prisons. That light is education.
Education is the only viable long-term solution for the problems that persist in our Commonwealth. Education is economic development. It creates opportunity and fuels the American dream and maintains our democracy. If we aspire to be more than we are, as individuals and as a state, we must support and sustain critical, strategic investments in education – early childhood through college.
To do that, Kentucky must enact revenue-producing tax reform that grows with the changing economy, funds structurally balanced budgets, and fulfills the promise of public education for every Kentuckian. Without question, this will be a significant challenge in the current fiscal and political environment. But Kentucky has done this before, bringing citizens, advocates, educators, elected officials, and policy and business leaders together to enact tax reform that produced the funding that financed the progress our schools recorded over the past three decades.
Today, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence offers a proposal that we believe will help guide the decision-making process for legislators as they craft the 2020-22 biennial budget and consider options for tax reform. Official estimates from the Consensus Forecasting Group project 1.3% and 1.8% annual growth for the next two fiscal years, respectively. Planning estimates for future years suggest 2% growth is possible. We believe a moderate investment now, $107 million in 2021 and $220 million in 2022, with larger increases from 2023 to 2026 totaling $1 billion dollars, will bring prosperity for both our citizens and our Commonwealth for decades to come. This is our Big Bold Ask.
We approach the Big Bold Ask with three key components––early childhood, K-12 and higher education––because research shows different but impressive returns on investments in each area:
- Early childhood investments return $5 for every $1 invested.
- For K-12, Kentucky would add $335 billion dollars to its Gross State Product if all students achieve at the “Basic” level or higher on NAEP tests (right now, 33% are “below basic”).
- The state’s return on investment for higher education could be $900 million in new tax revenue and cost savings if Kentucky’s postsecondary attainment reached the national average.
We encourage you to learn more about the Big Bold Ask by visiting prichardcommittee.org/bigboldask. There, you will find our detailed proposal that outlines specific funding needs for early childhood, K-12 and higher education. If you have any questions about the proposal, we urge you to contact Brigitte Blom Ramsey, the president and CEO of the Prichard Committee. The Big Bold Ask includes the following investments by 2026, all of which are crucial elements for improving Kentucky’s education outcomes:
- $251 million to provide childcare assistance to 23,000 more young children with family incomes below 200% of poverty;
- $80 million to provide preschool to 10,000 additional 4-year-olds with family incomes below 200% of poverty;
- $140 million to fund all-day kindergarten;
- $162 million to fund school transportation;
- $58 million to create a Fund for Teaching Excellence;
- $311 million to implement full Performance-Based Funding for public universities and our community and technical college system; and
- $30 million to expand College Access Program financial aid grants for 18,000 additional low-income students.
It is critical that each element remain intact in order to reap the highest benefits for Kentucky’s future.
As we have noted before, our schools’ progress in education performance has hit a plateau or, in some cases, started to decline. Meanwhile, other states, even those closest to us, are surpassing Kentucky. Tennessee’s governor just proposed hundreds of millions of dollars for education funding, which could give that neighboring state a significant advantage in economic development. Mississippi’s strategic investments are also bringing returns as their students have quickly outpaced ours in third grade reading, according to recent NAEP results. We must put ourselves on the inside track, instead of behind the curve.
There is no denying Kentucky’s budget challenges. But we know that Kentucky’s investment in the education of its citizens will change lives, and our Commonwealth, for the better. This is an investment we cannot afford to neglect. We must be bold enough now to take the leap.
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence Board of Directors
David Bolt, Morehead; Leo Calderon, Highland Heights; Al Cornish, Louisville; Ben Cundiff, Cadiz; Susan Elkington, Georgetown; W. Clay H. Ford, Owensboro; Bonnie Lash Freeman, Louisville; Bill Garmer, Lexington; Nancy Grayson, Covington; Franklin Jelsma, Louisville; Carol Lamm, Berea; Hilma S. Prather, Somerset; Wynn L. Radford, Hopkinsville; Julia L. Roberts, Bowling Green; Harvie Wilkinson, Lexington; William H. Wilson, Lexington