The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has proposed a $1 billion increase in state investment in education by the year 2026, calling it the Big Bold Ask.

Brigitte Blom Ramsey, President and CEO, explained the Prichard Committee has been a citizen-led and independent committee for more than 35 years. Its mission is "to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education," according to its website.

Ramsey said she recognizes the scarce resources the government has, but also recognizes education is a core responsibility of the government. The committee simply wants to increase funding in core areas of education, including early childhood, kindergarten through 12th grade and postsecondary education.

Early childhood

Within the Big Bold Ask, the Prichard Committee proposes $251 million for child care assistance for 23,000-plus children who fall below 200% of poverty, as well as $80 million to provide preschool to 10,000 4 year olds who fall below 200% poverty.

Ramsey explained child care is an important support system to ensure young children are properly prepared for success in schools. It is also important for working families to have peace of mind knowing their children have a high quality place to learn while they're working.

She explained certain areas in Kentucky are considered child care deserts, where there are few or no available places for child care. The proposed money would help shrink the sizes of these deserts. Ramsey also said work needs to be done so the care children are receiving is high quality. She said children develop at their most rapid at the ages of 0 to 5, so investment during this time is important for the state.

Ramsey noted the proposed money will also go toward funding public preschools. She explained Kentucky was once 28th in the nation in preschool enrollment, but is now ranked 41st.

K through 12

In the Big Bold Ask, $140 million is requested to fund all-day kindergarten. Ramsey said Kentucky pays for a half day of kindergarten, but a vast majority provide a full day because it greatly benefits the children and also supports working families.

Funding a full-day of kindergarten would make it possible for districts to take the local dollars and use them for strategic priorities the school district decides they need instead of simply funding the other half of the day for kindergarten classes.

The proposal is also looking for $162 million to fund transportation for schools. Ramsey said the state is not fully funded for what it costs to provide school bus services to all schools. She said the partial funding has a disproportionate impact on rural districts, which are often times lower income areas where more miles are traveled. This also frees up local dollars for strategic priorities.

The Ask also wants $58 million for a teaching excellence fund. This fund would provide investments to support teachers in order for them to lift academic outcomes for students, according to Ramsey.

The support would be based on evidence-based strategies for teaching in the early years to increase outcomes in line with state goals, Ramsey said. An example of this would be to increase third-grade reading and math proficiency.

"The more we can invest in high quality teaching in the classroom, the better our outcome," Ramsey said.

Postsecondary education

The Ask is seeking $311 million for full performance-based funding for Kentucky's public universities and community and technical colleges. It also requests $30 million to expand needs-based aid, which would offer 18,000 more College Access Program (CAP) grants to low-income students.

Ramsey said the funding for these would flow from the performance-based model for universities created when Senate Bill 153 was passed in 2017. The bill put into place an accountability model meant to increase attainment for students in postsecondary education. It provides incentives for universities to focus more on outcomes, Ramsey explained, but it's not yet fully funded by the state.

"We want to increase the investment in postsecondary education so that they can increase the number of Kentuckians with a degree or credit," Ramsey said. She explained that with increased funding, lower tuition can be attained.

Finding the money

By looking at the growth in the General Fund, based on current tax structures, Ramsey believes the money is available within the state budget to make all of these investments happen. By 2026, the growth in the General Fund exceeds the increased investment by $371 million, according to the detailed overview of the Big Bold Ask on the Prichard Committee email.

The state must simply see the "urgency of investing" in these portions of Kentucky's education system and allocate funds to them, Ramsey said.

The Big Bold Ask will be moving through the 2020 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. For more information, visit www.prichardcommittee.org/investing-in-education-excelllence-with-equity/.

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