As the Kentucky House continues its review of the two-year state budget that Governor Bevin presented last month, we’re getting a clearer picture of just how much of an impact it would have on education.
Legislators have been learning more about districts that are already near the breaking point and would almost certainly face drastic measures if they are required to take on significantly more transportation costs. Many students are already spending three or more hours every day on buses because there is not enough money for added routes.
Schools would also see no new money from the state for textbooks, and professional development would suffer as well. Retired teachers not yet eligible for Medicare, meanwhile, would lose their state funding for health insurance, forcing many to pay hundreds of dollars more each month while living on a fixed income.
A small dose of good news for schools facing the most financial difficulty came on February 9, when others in the House and I voted overwhelmingly for a measure that would let them borrow from excess per-pupil funding at no interest. This bill, which would mainly apply to schools here in the mountains, recognizes that these problems are due to forces beyond a school district’s control. It also symbolizes the need for the state to look for more ways to help close the growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest districts.
The state also needs to make college more affordable, not less, as I am afraid this budget would do. On February 8, postsecondary school officials painted a bleak future when they said the proposed cuts and mandated extra costs could leave them with a third less from the state in just a year’s time.
This would almost certainly lead to a spike in tuition and fewer students being able to attend college — and that is before factoring in the complete cuts the governor wants in the coal-county college scholarship and Robinson Scholars programs. The first uses our own coal-severance dollars to help local college students complete their four-year degree close to home, and the latter is a partnership with the University of Kentucky that covers costs for many students in eastern Kentucky who are the first in their family to attend college.
It is still unclear what changes the House may make in the governor’s budget, but a vote is expected later this month. I am concerned, however, that all of the talk has been about cuts, with no discussion about such things as tax reform.
While much of the attention last week was on the budget, there were several bills to clear the House that drew also some concern. One, for example, would let people vote on a constitutional amendment that would give the General Assembly authority to over-ride regulations put in place by the Executive Branch without having to pass a new law. Some argue this would preserve legislative intent, but others say it would add an unnecessary hurdle for future administrations.
Other troublesome bills sent to the Senate would potentially undermine protections for employees working for online-based companies like Uber and shield critical in-house reviews of doctors in medical-malpractice cases.
One bill we have yet to see is pension-reform legislation that the governor and other legislative leaders have been promising for months.
I firmly believe that the reforms made in 2008 and 2013 are putting our public retirement systems on the right track, as long as we keep funding them like we did in the 2014 and especially 2016 budget cycles. However, if pension reform is going to be considered, the public must have time for review and to make its concerns heard.
As we wait to see how pension reform, the budget and other potential legislation progress, I want to thank those who have taken the time to visit with me in the Capitol or back home or who have called or emailed. I encourage more of you to let me know your views.
My email is Angie.Hatton@lrc. ky.gov, and my office address is Room 429I, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601. To leave a message, the tollfree number is 800-372-7181, and it is 800-896-0305 for the hearingimpaired.