Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Jon Draud returned to his alma mater Tuesday to discuss issues facing education in the state with future teachers.

Draud, a 1960 Eastern Kentucky University graduate, was a guest speaker in Professor Richard Day’s Educational Foundations class in Combs Hall and also met with President Doug Whitlock while on campus.

A former state legislator representing the 63rd District in northern Kentucky, Draud had been vice chair of the House Education Committee since 1999 when he was named KDE commissioner in November by the Kentucky Board of Education.

He also had served as an associate professor at Northern Kentucky University, superintendent of the Ludlow Independent school district, assistant superintendent of Lockland (Ohio) Public Schools, a member of the Kenton County Board of Education and a school principal and teacher.

“The reason I went to the General Assembly was to do what I could to help with education,” Draud said. “I had not planned on any additional jobs or challenges of this nature at this stage in my career.”

“I’ve only been on the job for four months,” he said. “But, I can tell you that it has not been a difficult transition knowledge-wise having served as a school superintendent.”

The major goal of KDE is to help students reach proficiency in state testing by 2014, Draud said.

To reach that accomplishment, the department has taken several steps, including creating a blue-ribbon panel to determine what works in school districts and emulate it throughout state, getting all stakeholders involved and assuming responsibility for education in the state, adopting policies to make KDE more productive and efficient and meeting with the General Assembly about educational issues.

“It’s a big challenge in Kentucky,” Draud said about reaching proficiency by 2014. “Our elementary schools are doing quite well, but only middle and high schools are having a lot of difficulty achieving at the level that is necessary to reach proficient. I think Kentuckians can compete with anyone, anywhere. The big problem in Kentucky is we have a lot of poverty.”

The department of education did not receive nearly enough funding in the state budget, which will mean cuts for school districts across the state, he said.

Based on the revenue the legislators had to work with, Draud said there was nothing lawmakers could do without generating more money.

Saying he would have voted for it if he still was a legislator, Draud called raising the cigarette tax to generate additional revenue “a no-brainer.”

“In many cases, we don’t have the money to do some of the things I wanted to do to help move us forward toward proficiency,” he said. “We’re going to have to cut some things in school districts. I think that’s very unfortunate. It’s going to make it very difficult to reach proficiency.”

KDE’s share of the state’s general fund is decreasing, said Draud, who pointed to more money being spent on prisons and Medicaid as a contributing factor.

“We spend about four or five times more to keep someone in prison than we do to educate kids,” he said. “I always thought we should reverse that.”

“If we could reverse that, I don’t think we’d see quite as many people in prisons,” Draud said. “If you look at prisons, over 90 percent of the people are high school dropouts. Our problem is having our priorities straight.”

Since the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990, there has been a lot of progress made in education, he said.

“In 1990, we used to have to say, ‘Thank God for Mississippi’ because they were the only ones below us,” Draud said. “We ranked 48th and 49th in almost every variable in the country in education. Since 1990, in several important studies, we rank as high as 34th. When you isolate poverty states, we have made more progress than anyone in the country.”

In a parting message to the students, Draud said it was a critical time in history of education.

“When you look at all this testing that is going on globally we don’t do very well,” he said. “Our country doesn’t do very well, and our state doesn’t do very well. This country has been the greatest country in the history of civilization. It had been a leader in education. It hasn’t been a leader for over a decade. We keep going backwards in education compared to the rest of the world.”

“We’re going to lose the battle of knowledge if we don’t do something about education,” Draud said. “This era that we live in now is a knowledge-based economy. It’s not one based on brawn and muscle. It’s based on brains. You’re in a critical time becoming a teacher.”

Bryan Marshall can be reached at bmarshall@richmondregister.com or 624-6691.

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