, Corbin, KY

April 21, 2014

Education a priority? Don’t believe it

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

They did it — well, more or less.

They got a budget, they got a road plan, and they got out of town on time.

But as House Republican Minority Leader Jeff Hoover observed, the session was dominated by political calculations in an election year when Republicans hope to take control of the House.  He’s also accurate in describing the 2014 General Assembly as “lackluster:” no tax reform; no restoration of ex-felon voting rights; no heroin bill; no action on a host of problems facing Kentucky. If anything, “lackluster” is too much praise for the budget.

Constitutional offices and agencies that have endured cumulative funding cuts of more than 30 percent were rewarded with yet another 5 percent cut. Yes, funding for elementary and secondary education, after years of flat-lined funding, got a modest boost. There was help for child care assistance for working parents; a modest expansion of pre-school; and money for a Department of Public Advocacy social work program which actually saves the state money.

In a political era marked by tightwad thinking that appears impervious to actual human suffering, lawmakers showed genuine compassion by passing a bill which allows parents of children suffering debilitating seizures to gain access to an oil derived from hemp and marijuana plants which appears to relieve the seizures.

There were arguments — but no conclusions — about whether an increase in the minimum wage or a right-to-work law might improve employment and economic opportunities for Kentucky’s working families. But it was really more about what is best for each party in November than what is best the people who send lawmakers to Frankfort.

That debate occurred while the country increasingly laments the growing income gaps between the rich, the shrinking middle-class, the working poor and the very poor. Few people any longer deny those trends; but they vigorously disagree on how to alter them. But lawmakers’ actions look like they’re focused more on the problems faced by those on the top side of those widening gaps than those of the little guy.

Instead of tax reform, which presumably would boost the economy and provide adequate funding for needed government services, lawmakers inserted new tax credits for thriving industries which will lower state revenues. They cut funding for mine safety inspections. They congratulated themselves for raising teacher pay, but enacted more cuts in higher education funding. They forced students to pay for new buildings at community colleges.

It’s hard to find anyone who disagrees with the notion that education is the surest way out of poverty and the best tonic for economic vitality. Yet the “leaders” who proclaim the value of education, cut higher education funding. The same lawmakers who demand more rigor, higher graduation rates and college readiness from Kentucky’s elementary and secondary schools voted to make it more difficult for those college ready graduates to afford college.

A decade ago, the state paid 68 percent of the cost of education at the state’s public universities while parents and students paid 32 percent through tuition. Now the percentages are essentially reversed: the state pays 34 percent, parents and students 66 percent. Meanwhile lawmakers provided no more money for need-based financial aid.

Lawmakers always say education is their top priority. Don’t believe them. They are pricing a college education out of reach for all but the well-to-do.

If that doesn’t concern you, then think about this: nearly all of them are white males who enjoy prosperity because their parents could afford a quality college education largely paid for by taxpayers like you when tuition was far less expensive.

Who do you think they represent?