$4.6M shortfall in SEEK funding will get filled months after request

09/29/2016 07:54 AM

FRANKFORT — A $4.6 million shortfall in public school funding will be filled once the Kentucky Department of Education requests the funds, Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration said Wednesday.

The announcement came after House Democrats called on Bevin to plug the Supporting Education Excellence in Kentucky program’s financial gap during a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda, steps away from the governor’s first-floor office suite.

Thirty minutes before the news conference, Bevin’s office released a video of the governor shot earlier in the day in the rotunda. Standing behind the very lectern manned by Democrats as they urged him to fill the SEEK shortfall later that day, Bevin predicted that they would “make a mockery of the significance of this building.”

The SEEK kerfuffle began Feb. 29, when Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt requested the additional $4.6 million in a letter to Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary William Landrum.

But that year’s budget, which covered fiscal years 2015 and 2016, stipulated that increases for SEEK, which provides state funding for K-12 public schools, may be granted upon approval by the governor. In a March 9 memo to Bevin, State Budget Director John Chilton wrote that in 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2015, SEEK shortfalls weren’t filled by Govs. Ernie Fletcher and Steve Beshear.

In the biennial budget passed this year, lawmakers inserted a provision that KDE can request up to $10 million to bridge SEEK funding gaps in fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018, “which shall be deemed a necessary government expense.” That language took effect July 1.

Amanda Stamper, Bevin’s spokeswoman, said a request from KDE under the current budget will be honored.

That assurance didn’t come in time to ease the ire of House Democrats, who weren’t sure whether the department had made a follow-up request. CNHI News reports that KDE staff never received an indication from the administration on whether its $4.6 million request would be approved, with a final email coming from KDE budget director Charles Harmon on June 14.

“It’s not discretionary money, it’s mandatory money,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo said.

“To go backward on that promise is to go backward on the promise of the Education Reform Act, to go backward on the Rose decision actually, which said that every child, every child across Kentucky, rich, poor, black, white, Latino, it didn’t matter. The Constitution of Kentucky, when it says that we shall create a system of public schools guarantees every child the right to a public education and equal opportunities, and that’s really what this is about.”

Rep. Rick Rand, a Bedford Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, joined Bevin’s call to pray for Kentucky schoolchildren on Wednesday, adding that “prayer takes action.”

“As we join Gov. Bevin in prayer today for our schools, let us also take some action,” he said. “I call on Gov. Bevin to distribute the full $4.6 million to our schools and let the dedicated people who teach and work with our children do the jobs that they love.”


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