A key issue facing Kentucky public schools is so well-known by now it’s almost cliché: our schools are suffering from long-term, persistent underfunding. It’s a problem made even worse by the pandemic, which has disrupted learning for hundreds of thousands of students across our state, and required more resources from our schools and staff than ever before.
Last year lawmakers took a welcome, important first step in appropriating additional dollars to help bolster Kentucky’s public schools. This year they have the opportunity to perform another crucial act: averting a catastrophic funding cliff facing many districts by updating laws to address inflationary pressures on schools, and stabilize funding and attendance-related anomalies of the last few years.
Kentucky is one of only six states that factor average daily attendance (ADA) into districts’ baseline funding formula. If attendance drops, so does funding. Schools, however, must be prepared each day to function as if every student will show up: Classrooms are staffed. Buildings are heated and cooled. Meals are prepared. Buses run their regular routes.
At the onset of the pandemic, legislators allowed districts to use 2019 attendance rates for purposes of funding to counterbalance Covid absences, but that provision will expire June 30, 2023.
Now in their fourth school year impacted by Covid, districts continue to grapple with a ‘pandemic effect:’ school attendance seen as less of an obligation and more of an option. And many communities are still reeling from another of Covid’s impact: a portion of our population’s immune systems are still adjusting to the world as communities open up and more people move about freely, and largely unmasked, resulting in a surge in cases of flu and RSV in addition to Covid.
Doing nothing would have devastating consequences for the vast majority of our schools. Most districts are seeing about a 3 percent drop in attendance compared to pre-pandemic attendance levels. At the same time, several districts have experienced exponential growth over the past few years; reverting to a prior year’s attendance rates would deny those districts of desperately needed funds as well. The fix can’t be one-size-fits-all. The solution must take into account districts at both ends of the spectrum.
We continue to urge lawmakers to get education funding back on track, but the more immediate need is to ensure schools don’t fall even further behind. It’s urgent that lawmakers make necessary adjustments this legislative session so catastrophic effects don’t adversely affect our students.