Education

Officials at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) are warning that public schools may face cuts if the federal government does not provide a relief package to the states. During the Kentucky Board of Education meeting Thursday, KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney said the first federal aid package has helped schools adapt during the pandemic, but it won’t be enough if tax revenues drop next fiscal year.

“The money that’s being provided right now for our local school districts — it’s emergency relief, it’s not stimulus relief. It’s to get us through this crisis,” Kinney said. “There’s going to need to be more than that if we’re going to function anywhere remotely on a continuation of services to the general public.”

KDE is following orders from the governor to cut 1% of its budget, or about $3 million, before the end of this fiscal year on June 30. That’s to help make up for an expected budget shortfall of several hundred million dollars due to the pandemic. But officials are bracing for a drop in tax revenues in fiscal year 2021 as well, as the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic continue.

The Office of the State Budget Director predicts the state’s General Fund tax revenues will fall between 10% and 17% in the first two quarters of the next fiscal year.

“It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if in FY 2021, there were other budget reductions that were required,” KDE budget director Charles Harmon said.

That concerned Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown. Brown said the state has been able to mitigate the impact of this year’s cuts on schools. The governor has exempted SEEK funding, or local school district funds, from across-the-board 1% budget cuts. And Brown said the department has so far been able to bear the brunt of the cuts to K-12 funding by allowing vacancies to go unfilled, and taking other reduction measures.

But, Brown said, with KDE costs making up such a small percentage of overall K-12 spending, “you don’t get very far,” by making cuts to the department. He worries any more reductions would have an impact on local school district budgets.

In addition, Brown said funding for department staff have been continuously cut over the last two decades.

“We’re running on fumes and adrenaline,” Brown said. Harmon said he’s concerned about the department’s ability to implement laws passed in this legislative session. Many did not come with additional funding, such as the overhaul of the state’s school report card.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has said he’s open to negotiating additional federal relief to states, but only if they limit the kinds of lawsuits workers can bring against their employers during the pandemic.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.