The Richmond Register


September 24, 2012

Shoot for bang for the buck in public schools

There is an upside to Kentucky’s budget crunch: It forces everyone from legislators to agency heads to school superintendents to get the most out of every buck mailed in by taxpayers.  

Lean budget times can also produce shining – and refreshing – examples of how some public servants refuse to make excuses and simply succeed with the resources available.

For instance, a recent Bluegrass Institute report entitled “Bang for the Buck 2012: How efficient are Kentucky’s schools?” reveals that some Kentucky school districts spend far less than the state average of $10,814 per pupil and yet are producing above-average ACT results.

Graves County schools, for example, is spending more than $2,000 less than the state average on each of the more than 4,000 students in its district, yet its ACT Composite score is 19.4, significantly higher than the state average of 18.8.

But Grave County’s performance – and the performances of several other districts around the commonwealth – addresses another issue that often arises when comparisons between school districts are attempted: poverty.

Without fail, whenever the issue of holding schools and teachers accountable for their performance arises, the usual knee-jerk reactions offered by defenders of our public education system’s overall mediocrity usually center on lack of funding and high poverty rates.

Yet Graves County is achieving above-average academic results with below-average spending although 56 percent of its students come from low-income homes that qualify for free- and reduced-cost lunches.

More than 60 percent of the 8,410 students who attend school in the Laurel County district – one of the state’s largest – come from low-income homes. Yet the district produced a 19.5 ACT score last year while spending $806 less per pupil than the state average.

Graves County Superintendent Pete Galloway has a different mantra than the excuse-making, accountability-avoiding refrains that we hear so much of today.

“In our school district, we strive for excellence – no exceptions, no excuses,” he said.

How refreshing. There is no hint of pointing fingers, accusing taxpayers of being cheapskates or attempting to blame problems on parents or poverty.

Are parents important? Absolutely. Is poverty an issue? Yeah.

I’m sure Galloway and every superintendent achieving more with less would tell you: “Yeah, we’d like more money. Sure, we wish all parents were engaged. Ideally, poverty would not exist.”

But that’s not what you hear from Galloway.

Instead, he simply says: “In the Graves County Schools, we believe number one that all kids can learn and rise to our expectations.”

I believe “all kids” includes children from poor and less-than-ideal home situations, doesn’t it?

If more funding would somehow magically – in and of itself – produce a better education system, how is it that:

• Owsley County schools spend $16,049 per pupil and yet had a district ACT Composite score last year that was 2 full points below the state average?

• Frankfort Independent spends $2,478 more per pupil than the state average and yet had a district ACT score significantly below the state average?

• Covington Independent spends $2,397 more per pupil than the state average yet produced an abysmal 15.6 ACT Composite score?

• Knox County spends $11,230 per pupil but the best it can do is offer one of the lowest ACT Composite scores in the entire commonwealth?

Blaming Kentucky’s failing schools on a lack of funding is about as legitimate as blaming low attendance at UK’s football games this year on a lack of people residing in Lexington.

Since the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed in 1990, inflation-adjusted spending on public education has nearly doubled.

In too many districts, test scores – and expectations – have not kept pace.

Jim Waters is acting president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Text Only
  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Education a priority? Don’t believe it

    They did it – more or less.

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

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Don McNay.jpg Did you miss small business health-care tax credit?

    A Kentucky professional who owns his own business found that he missed getting the health-care tax credit.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Compromise is not that simple

    It’s tempting for a casual onlooker to wonder why the Democratic House and Republican Senate can’t make what on the surface looks like the obvious compromise on pension reform.
    The Senate passed a measure based on recommendations of a task force to move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain existing defined benefits for current employees and retirees.

    March 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Frankfort plays ping-pong with public pension transparency

    Legislation that would make the Kentucky Retirement Systems transparent for those paying its bills has danced into the spotlight during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
    Passage of transparency bills filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would make the “names, status, projected or actual benefit payments” subject to our commonwealth’s superlative Open Records Act.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jack Strauss-BW.jpg The case of the ghostly neighbor

    Wilbur lived in a world of fears. Everything frightened him. The full extent of his courage was to admit that he had none.
    Noises in the middle of the night, his own shadow creeping up on him and, most of all, black cats scared the wits out of him.
    So, picture his chagrin, one day, when he came home from vacation only to discover that a mausoleum had been erected on property adjacent to his home.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Provisional concealed-carry law passes Senate unanimously

    Things are staying busy in Frankfort. Many bills are making their way onto the Senate floor from various committees. This past week several important pieces of legislation were debated and passed.
    I am particularly proud of the success we had in advocating for Kentuckians’ Second Amendment rights.
    I introduced Senate Bill 106 to allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional CCDW permit from the Kentucky State Police in one business day. In some of these cases, victims need this type of protection as quickly as possible.

    March 8, 2014

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg 50 years makes a world of difference

    I wasn’t in Frankfort on March 5, 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson led 10,000 on a march to the state Capitol in support of a public accommodations law.
    But a few months later, I stood in front of the “Music Hall,” site of the Glasgow Junior High School located on a street named Liberty, and watched black kids “walk up the hill” of College Street on the first day of integrated schools in Glasgow.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • 02.23 Mike Duncan mug.jpg Coal has kept Kentuckians warm this winter

    This winter, temperatures across the country dipped to historic lows. Here in our home state of Kentucky, the near-arctic climate caused increased power demand which resulted in an incredible strain on the electric grid and rising energy costs.

    March 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Protecting citizens’ data is a no-brainer

    Target Corp. is learning the hard way: The price is steep for retailers who don’t protect customers’ sensitive financial information.
    Target’s profits fell a whopping 50 percent during its fourth quarter of 2013 as the result of a massive security breach involving as many as 110 million of its customers’ credit- and debit-card accounts, which began the day before Thanksgiving and extended throughout much of the holiday shopping season.

    March 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Making plans for spring planting

    My brother Keith (Keeter) probably planted peas on one of those warm days last week, and I would not be at all surprised to find out that brother Steve did likewise to try to be the first two fellows in Letcher County to actually be digging the soil in their 2014 gardens.
    Keeter’s father-in-law, the late Dock Mitchell, used to get my brother to drive him a 50-mile round trip to get pea seeds and potting soil for early February planting. Dock raised mammoth melting sugar snow peas and sugar snaps around every fence on the place. 

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide

Should Richmond rezone the southwest corner of Main Street and Tates Creek Avenue to B-1 (Neighborhood Business) with restrictions to allow construction of a financial services office?

     View Results