Thursday, October 2, 2003

Universities, public schools start mutual campaign for money



By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Kentucky's public schools and universities, historically fierce competitors for the public dollar, now are lobbying collectively for increased funding.

They are part of a coalition, Partners for Kentucky's Future, that on Wednesday announced a campaign aimed at selling the public and the General Assembly on increased funding of education at all levels.

It is noteworthy that schools "have come together in a unified way and said, 'We're going after the whole picture,' as opposed to going at each other," said Robert Sexton, representing a coalition member, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

"I think there's a tacit agreement - and maybe an explicit one - that we will do our very best not to try to improve our particular area at the expense of the others," Sexton said.

However, one of the "Partners" - the Council for Better Education, made up of school superintendents and school board members - has sued the General Assembly in an attempt to get more money for elementary and secondary education.

Another partner, the influential trade organization Associated Industries of Kentucky, this week issued a position paper that says Kentucky needs less spending by government, not higher taxes on business.

"We all agreed that we would have our own agendas," Sexton said. In any event, the Council for Better Education lawsuit would not affect short-term education funding, he said.

What the academic institutions have in common is that their share of the state's General Fund has been decreasing. Overall education funding accounted for 62.5 percent of the budget in fiscal 1990 but is 57.9 percent of the budget this year.

A report issued by the Partners group says Kentucky has made "noteworthy progress in improving education at all levels," since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990. That law included a huge increase in public school funding through a 1-cent increase in the sales tax.

At current rates of revenue and spending, the state faces a $274 million shortfall this fiscal year on top of a shortfall of $225 million or more in the Medicaid program, according to the administration. A panel of economists that makes the state's official revenue forecasts concluded in a meeting earlier Wednesday that the shortfall projection will change little, if any, in a new forecast later this month.

"We do have to be unified on the funding issue," Tom Layzell, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, said. "Higher education can't be saying 'Give us the money' and (local schools) can't either. Their successes are our successes, and our successes are theirs."




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