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Governor’s budget plan could add $1 million in SEEK funds

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If passed, county preschool eligibility to increase by 12 percent

By Meaghan Downs

Gov. Steve Beshear’s two-year budget proposal brings uncertainty, but also hope for school districts like Anderson County requesting additional funding from the state.
Superintendent Sheila Mitchell said the governor’s draft budget includes a significant increase for Support Education Excellence in Kentucky or SEEK funding for students and staff.
Mitchell estimated that the budget’s increase would give the district $$3,866 per student in SEEK funding, adding roughly $1 million for Anderson in total state funding based on a stable average daily attendance (ADA) rate.
The increase of state funding may come with a catch: an allegedly “mandated” 2 percent salary raise for teachers and classified school personnel in 2015, and a 1 percent raise the year following.
Mitchell said she’s not sure if the school board would have the option of receiving SEEK funds without also instituting the proposed pay raises; that scenario had not come in discussions regarding the governor’s budget and its potential affect on districts.
Although Anderson would get funding to help pay for the 2 percent salary increase, the district would need to match about 20-25 percent of the salary raise costs, she said.
If the state budget passes by the April deadline, then those questions regarding the salary increase would have to be answered by the district budget committee before final approval of next fiscal year’s budget, Mitchell said.
“That has to be a consideration when making a final decision on the total amount,” she said of the district’s estimated cost for providing a 2 percent raise in 2015.
The promise of increased preschool funds for those at 160 percent of the poverty also has staff at the Ezra Sparrow Early Childhood Center excited for the possibility of additional funds.
Beshear’s proposal for an additional $18 million a year to expand preschool services would result in approximately 5,100 more 4-year-olds able to attend preschool, a statewide increase of 22 percent.
Currently, the only students who are eligible must be at 150 percent of the poverty level.
“I will say that we were all elated when Gov. Beshear’s budget proposal was released,” ECC Principal Janice Meredith said in an email.
“The eligibility requirements have tightened over the past few years so anything that can be done to allow us to serve more children early on is a welcome change.”
According to Meredith and ECC school psychologist Kyle Riggs, 52 out of 97 preschool aged children screened were eligible under the current 150 percent poverty level criteria.
If the poverty level criteria were raised to 160 percent, about 12 percent of Anderson County students would then qualify under the at-risk category, Meredith said.
Plans to increase technology funds is another exciting prospect for the district, Mitchell said. The governor’s budget may result in about $60,000-70,000 for Anderson alone.
Although the district’s “bring your own device” initiative has been successful in bringing in additional devices for classroom use, Mitchell said that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a need for technology in the district.
Mitchell said in addition to general classroom learning, more computers for technology labs may become more important as assessments increase and those assessments go online.   
“I think a lot of children have their own devices, and it’s great for the children to have their own devices, we want to make sure every child has access to their own device,” Mitchell said.
“Bring your own device has been a huge help for classroom teachers to have additional devices in their classrooms.”
Another huge help would be an influx of funding through Flexible Focus Funds.
Beshear has promised to increase that funding pool by $47.7 million.
That means Anderson County could receive an additional $200,000 to pay for more professional development for teachers regarding changes in Common Core curriculum and assessments; textbooks; and extended school services for at-risk students.
Mitchell said that money would be able to move around to address the district’s priorities, including safety.
“Safe schools are always a top priority, but I also have to say textbooks and providing resources for our students and teachers is extremely important,” she said.
Mitchell said superintendents met via conference call last week with Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday regarding the governor’s budget proposal, and what that budget may bring for the future of education in the state.
In addition to increases in state funding Holliday remarked that federal funding for Title I, Title II and technical education may also be restored to 2012 levels, according to Mitchell.
“Everyone is very hopeful,” Mitchell said of the governor’s proposed budget. “We all believe this is a step in the right direction.”
The two-year spending plan was filed as a House bill in January, and needs to be passed before session ends on April 15.
A draft budget for 2014-2015 was presented to the school board last week, and a second “tentative” budget will be reviewed and voted on by the Board of Education at the end of May before being submitted to the state education department for approval.