Thursday, March 24, 2016

State budget threatens to roll back progress made in education

The Kentucky General Assembly is due to finish the biennial budget for the Commonwealth any day now.  The budget is the most significant policy document passed by lawmakers every two years that signals the priorities of the Bluegrass state in setting a course for the future. 

I am sad to say that the budget proposed by Governor Bevin and the Kentucky Senate is disappointing when it comes to education with $300 million in cuts to colleges, universities as well as primary and secondary education.

Kentucky has made great strides in education.  Thanks to significant investments in education over the past 20 years, Kentucky has moved from the bottom of nearly every national education ranking to the top tier of states.   Kentucky has one of the highest graduation rates in the country, ranking 10th overall according to the National Center for Education Statistics.      

Kentucky has also had much positive momentum in higher education with increased production of bachelor degrees and expanding enrollments in community and technical colleges.

A failure to prioritize and invest in our most precious resource—our people--will jeopardize the success that we have had over the past 20 years. 

Kentucky now ranks sixth worst among states in cuts to its core K-12 education funding formula.  Our inflation adjusted cuts to higher education rank among the worst in the country.  For example, the University of Kentucky is now funded at the same level it was in 1998.

Much of the focus in Frankfort has been to provide adequate funding for Kentucky’s ailing pension system.  I credit the Governor and legislature for their commitment to fixing this issue.  But starving education funding through austerity is not good public policy.  

The Kentucky House passed a responsible budget that funded education and paid a larger share of money toward the pension than the Governor recommended while incurring less debt.  This demonstrates that it can be done. 

I urge leaders in Frankfort to invest in the future of Kentucky by simply funding education from preschool through postsecondary. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Commissioner Pruitt visiting Owensboro for Town Hall Event

Kentucky's new Commissioner of Education will make his first trip to Owensboro in March for a Town Hall event hosted by the Kentucky Department of Education to get input on the implementation of a new accountability system.

Dr. Stephen Pruitt will host the event at Daviess County High School on March 29 at 6:30 pm.  The work is being driven by Congress' recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education

"It is my goal to collaborate with legislators, educators, students, and the public to produce a system that is fair, reliable, valid, and easier to understand than what we have now," Pruitt said.

The new federal law will give Kentucky an incredible opportunity to remake the former system called No Child Left Behind.

"I am excited about Dr. Pruitt's first visit to Owensboro.  I have invited him to spend some time taking a look at some of the great things happening in our local school systems." said OPS Superintendent Dr. Nick Brake.  "I have found him to be very responsive and engaging as a Commissioner, he is very focused on the needs of local school districts."

Brake said a new accountability system will enable our state to move away from the more punitive aspects of No Child Left Behind to a more well rounded approach to education focusing on the arts, career and technical education, and meeting the individual needs of students compared to a singular focus on high stakes testing in reading and math under the previous system.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Year of the Child in Owensboro

The City of Owensboro, the Daviess County Fiscal Court, and now the Owensboro Board of Education have declared 2016 to be 'The Year of the Child" in Owensboro.
Why the focus on children?

For the first time in the history of our nation, over half of children in the United States qualify for free and reduced lunches, meaning that they life with some type of poverty.   In the Owensboro Public Schools is it far worse than the national rate.  Nearly 80 percent of our students live in conditions with few educational resources in their homes.  Only one-third of the students that start kindergarten with us are ready to learn.  Their parents face unemployment, underemployment, food insecurity, lack of stable housing and many other obstacles that seriously undermine children’s opportunity to learn.  

We used to be able to confidently say that a child born in America had many advantages to children born elsewhere.  But those advantages are far more dependent on family background in the US than we might wish.  It’s not only that some kids are rich and others are poor.  It's also that some have educated parents, including both a mother and a father in the home, who possess the social capital as well as the resources of time and money to ensure that their children are prepared for school by the time they reach age four or five. At the other end of the spectrum is a group of children whose early home life, or lack thereof, makes it far more difficult for them to succeed in school.  These are the kids whose fathers may be incarcerated, whose mothers may be working long hours at low wage jobs, who live in troubled neighborhoods with little to occupy them in their free time, and whose parents lack the connections and knowledge needed to put them on a path to the middle class.  These gaps between rich and poor, between the privileged and disadvantaged, are growing, suggesting that whatever degree of social mobility has existed in the US in the past may now be threatened.  Such growing gaps have profound implications for educators and for the idea that schools can compensate for what children do not receive at home or in their communities.   

But the reality is the gap that exists between these students is created more by what happens outside of school and by what kids bring (or don't bring) with them to school...than by what schools do to them.  His case studies, comparing students of the last 30 to 40 years to students today, show that these gaps are becoming wider and much more difficult to bridge.  Rather than achievement gaps, we are creating opportunity gaps.  Schools cannot be and ought not be the primary anti-poverty program for our nation, our state or our community.   The growing inequality in our nation is hurting upward mobility.  We will bear the consequences if we do not act to deal with it as a community.  We have watched massive cutbacks of programs to uplift poor families. We must act to save the American Dream of equal opportunity.  It is a matter of justice!

Horace Mann said over a century ago that education was the great equalizer-- the data show that he was right.  Just a few decades ago the gap between rich and poor finishing a college degree was 39 percentage points.  In just a few years that gap has risen dramatically to over 50 percentage points.  Today education is more like the great fortifier-- compounding advantages of class-- than the great equalizer.  International rankings reflect this trend, while much attention is paid to where the US ranks relative to other developed nations in math and reading.  You do not often hear that we rank second to last among high performing countries in economic equity, and support for families, and dead last in social stress measures such as death from violence, drug use and teenage births. 

Despite these crippling trends and awesome challenges, we in the Owensboro Public Schools believe in Nelson Mandela's idea that “education in the most powerful weapon to change the world.”   We focus on the whole child as a way of providing as much social capital as we can for students that come to us from disadvantaged situations.  That is why we have built one of the best performing arts programs in the country, so that our students can have dance lessons, learn music and build confidence by being on stage at the Riverpark Center.  That is also why every fifth through 12th grade student receives an Apple computer to join the 21st century world of technolgy.  That is why we focus on early childhood education with our partnership with Head Start at Hager Preschool and have invested in a comprehensive family-based approaches to literacy  with programs like Footsteps-2-Brilliance that provide thousands of books to students at home and in day care before they reach us in school.  We run our food service program like an efficient business, which, along with support from the Federal government, enables us to provide free meals to all students in our school system.  At the high school level we offer our students the option of completing high school with an associate degree through our early college academy.  

It is our hope that the focus on children during 2016 will help adequately address many of the issues facing the most vulnerable citizens of our community.