Kentucky's public schools received a bad report card this year, according to the 2019 Quality Counts report.

The public education system in Kentucky received a C- overall, which is just a few points shy of the national average at a C.

The score came as no surprise to Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne D. Lewis.

“The 2019 Quality Counts rankings confirm much of what we already know about Kentucky's public education system,” said Lewis. “I believe an overall grade of C- accurately reflects both our system's strengths and its areas for improvement.”

The 23rd annual report card of state education systems issued by the Education Week Research Center synthesizes 39 indicators that capture a range of school finance, academic achievement and socioeconomic factors that affect the quality of state’s school systems. New Jersey and Massachusetts tied for first, with a B+ score of 87.8, while New Mexico ranked last with a D at 66.4, according to the report.

Kentucky came in at 36th place, with a score of 72.4 for 2019. The same study from 2018 placed it at 35th in the nation, with a score of 72.5. But Kentucky and the nation have seen a consistent grade in the C range, going back as far as 2007, except for 2013. Kentucky received a B- grade that year and was ranked 10th in the nation.

The latest report card is the third and final piece of the Quality Counts 2019 report. The final result comes from three categories in the report card framework. A state’s overall grade is the average of its scores on the three separate indices tracked by the report. Grades for the Chance-for-Success and School Finance categories were published in the January and June installments.


Kentucky received a C (75.4) and ranked 38th in the January report for Chance-for-Success, whereas the nation received a C+ (79). Thirteen things that were looked at as factors that made up the Chance-for-Success index included family income, parent education, steady employment and high school graduation.

These factors were identified as things that span from a person’s life from cradle to career. Those indicators fall into three subsections: early foundations, school years and adult outcomes.

Looking at early foundations, which examines factors that help children get off to a good start, Kentucky earns a B-minus and ranks 36th. The average state posts a B.

In the subsection school years, the focus is on metrics related to pre-k enrollment through postsecondary participation. Kentucky finishes 35th in the nation in this area. By comparison, the nation as a whole earns a C-plus.

The last subsection, adult outcomes, looks at Kentucky adults and opportunities for success based on postsecondary educational attainment and workforce indicators, Kentucky’s grade is a C-minus. It ranks 43rd in the nation. The national average is a C-plus, according to the Quality Counts 2019 report.

School Finance

In the June report, the national average for the second installment — School Finance — was a C (74.9), while Kentucky took home a C- (70.9).

Following suit, the School Finance leg of the Quality Report 2019 looked at three subsections when analyzing the data: school finance, spending and equity.

Kentucky found itself finishing 32nd out of 49 states receiving overall school finance rankings. (Because they are single-district jurisdictions, the District of Columbia and Hawaii do not receive overall rankings for school finance, which analyzes the distribution of funding across districts within a state.)

Two critical aspects of school spending were analyzed, with eight indicators in this category. Four factors assess school spending patterns, while the remaining metrics gauge equity in the distribution of funding across the districts within each state.

With regards to the subsection spending, metrics in this area helped to shed light on major questions, such as: What does the state spend per-pupil when adjusted for regional cost differences? What percent of students are in districts with per-pupil spending at or above the U.S. average? What share of total taxable resources are spent on education?

The worst grade by far, across the spending indicators, Kentucky finishes with an F compared with a national average of D. Kentucky ranked 38th in the nation in this area, according to the Quality Counts 2019 report.

Lastly, looking at the equity subsection, the data examined how funds were being distributed across the districts. Topics covered by the equity analysis included: To what degree does funding for property-poor districts differ from that of their wealthier counterparts and how different are the spending levels of the highest- and lowest-spending districts?

On the equity measures, Kentucky receives an A-minus, which places it third in the national rankings. The nation as a whole earns a B-plus.

K-12 Achievement

The last installment, K-12 Achievement, gave Kentucky schools yet another C- (70.9), while the nation faired only slightly better with a C (73).

The index credit examines 18 distinct achievement measures related to reading and math performance, high school graduation rates, and the results of Advanced Placement exams. The index assigns equal weight to current levels of performance and changes over time. It also places an emphasis on equity, by examining both poverty-based achievement gaps and progress in closing those gaps, according to the report.

Factors for the K-12 Achievement leg of the report can be broken down into three sub-categories: status, change, and equity.

In the subsection status that looks at how students are performing today, evaluate a state’s current performance. Kentucky receives a D in this area and ranks 31st in the nation. The average state earns a D-plus.

In regards to the subsection change, a state’s improvement over time was examined. In this area, Kentucky posts a D-plus and ranks 30th. The national average is a C-minus.

In the equity sub-section, states are graded based on achievement gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers. Kentucky’s grade on those poverty-gap measures stands at a B. Nationally, it ranks 20th in this area. The nation as a whole receives a B.

Results of the Education Week research showed that socioeconomic factors do not always predict a state’s academic fortunes. For example, Florida finished 43rd in the family income category, but ninth for 4th-grade reading achievement. Kentucky ranks 41st for family income, but stands 22nd in 4th-grade reading.

“In sum, our system has come a long way from where it was just a few generations ago, thanks in large part to the parents, students, leaders, educators and communities that fought so hard for improvement,” said Lewis. “However, our system is not nearly what our children and our Commonwealth need it to be.

"It will take a combination of increased strategic investment in classrooms and improved education policy, leadership and instructional practice to ensure that each and every Kentucky student, regardless of background or school district, has access to a high-quality public education. Only then will we begin to see significant change in student outcomes.”

Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.

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