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January 21, 2014

Highlights from Beshear’s budget plan

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget proposal for the next two years will “harm a lot of services vital to Kentuckians” but will also “make investments in the future of Kentucky that will make a tremendous difference in the future.”

Those are the governor’s descriptions of a budget that proposes no new revenue from either tax reform or expanded gambling but nevertheless increases funding for the SEEK program, the basic funding system for public schools, by $188.9 million over two years.

That will be mostly all eaten up, however, by a 2-percent salary increase for teachers and classified personnel in the first year and a 1-percent increase in the second year. Beshear wants also to spend $47.7 million each year to restore funding for textbooks, teacher training, after-school services and safe schools.

But that “re-investment” comes with a cost elsewhere, including in higher education which will see a 2.5 percent cut. Beshear would soften that blow by authorizing the universities and community colleges to issue bonds they can pay off for capital projects and funding half the increased retirement costs for the regional universities, excluding the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville which don’t participate in the state pension system.

Here are some basic highlights:

ELEMENTARY/SECONDARY EDUCATION: the increase in SEEK raises per pupil guarantee for all districts to $3,911 in fiscal year 15 and $3,981 in FY 16. But it will take most of that for salary increases of 2 percent in year one and 1 percent in year two. It will expand eligibility for 4-year-olds for pre-school to 160 percent of the federal poverty line, allowing enrolment of an additional 5,125 more children in pre-school.

HIGHER EDUCATION: cuts operational funding 2.5 percent, continuing the decade long reversal of the percentage of college costs paid by the state and by students and parents. But it authorizes bonds for $60 million for the Bucks for Brains program, the first time that’s been funded since 2010.

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