06 Apr Beshear Touts Progress in Education (KY)April 6, 2011
By: Amanda Van BenschotenSource: nky.com
ERLANGER – When Gov. Steve Beshear walked into his office in the state Capitol the day after his inauguration in December 2007, the first person to greet him was the state budget director.
“(She) said, ‘Well, I hope you enjoyed yesterday. Because in the next three weeks, we’ve got to cut about $340 million out of our budget,'” Beshear told the Boone County Education Foundation Tuesday at its annual Governor’s Luncheon.
It was the first of nine rounds of budget cuts totaling more than $1 billion over the past three and a half years.
Each time, Beshear said he was urged to make across-the-board cuts to state spending.
“That is the easy way to do it. But it’s not the right way to do it – at least not from where I stand,” he said. “So each time, I said no to that approach.”
Among the areas spared from deep cuts was education, particularly base funding for elementary and secondary education, known as SEEK.
Beshear said that approach is one of the reasons Kentucky is poised to emerge from the recession in better shape than most states.
“Making education a priority has paid off for us in a lot of other ways,” he said.
He said Kentucky has made significant progress in several areas, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress data from the Prichard Committee.&l t;br>
The state now ranks ninth in fourth grade reading, up from 26th in the nation in 2008. It ranks 16th, up from 29th, in eighth-grade reading.
And Kentucky ranks 26th, up from 38th, in the number of high school graduates – 62 percent – who go to college.
“We ought to be proud of what we’ve done,” Beshear said. “But we ought not to be satisfied with where we are, because we still have a long way to go.”
He said keeping education a priority will be key to sustaining that progress – so he said he was “baffled” by a state Senate proposal last month to cut education funding.
On March 25, Beshear vetoed parts of a bill that contained across-the-board spending cuts, including to education, to balance the state’s Medicaid budget.
The issue came down to a political battle between Beshear, a Democrat seeking re-election, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who’s seeking the GOP nomination to run against Beshear in November.
The Democratic-controlled House approved Beshear’s proposal: to borrow money from the second year of the Medicaid budget to balance the first year, and use projected savings from managed care reforms to pay it back.
But the GOP-held Senate rejected the plan. Then the House rejected the Senate’s plan. Negotiations on a compromise broke down twice.
Ultimately, the House passed the Senate’s plan, but only with Beshear’s promise to veto the spending cuts.
That allows Beshear to try his approach to balancing the Medicaid budget – and he said he believes it will work.
“But if we don’t quite get there, I’ll do what I’ve done nine times already: we’ll make whatever reductions we need to make in order to balance the budget. But we won’t cut the SEEK formula. There is no way we’re going to do that. We don’t have to, and we’re not going to,” he said.