Lately, there has been much ado about the “war on public education” in Kentucky. I have my own thoughts on that, but if there really is a battle worth fighting for, I say it’s improving our state’s public schools.
I’m not alone on that. According to a study that was just released by the good folks over at the Prichard Committee, citizens from across the Bluegrass State say they haven’t seen much improvement in their local schools in years.
The poll, which was released last week, showed that 62 percent of Kentuckians viewed K-12 education and jobs as higher priorities than other campaign issues like taxes or infrastructure. While jobs tended to land in the top spot for voters around the state, data from Louisville and Lexington suggested that K-12 education was the bigger deal for urban Kentuckians. Considering the lack of quality schooling options that exist for some families in those areas, it makes sense that school improvement would be a major priority.
But this isn’t another example of the urban-rural divide. No matter where Kentuckians call home, this study is pretty clear: they don’t feel their schools have gotten much better.
Location, Location, Location
It doesn’t take a statistician to see the big picture being painted here. Over the past few years, the vast majority of Kentuckians feel that their local schools have either gotten worse or stayed about the same.
Location doesn’t matter, either. While the Louisville Metro area may have the bleakest views about their local schools’ quality, the outlook isn’t exactly outstanding in Kentucky’s other regions. Only a small percentage of rural Eastern and Western Kentuckians said that their local schools had improved in the past few years.
That just goes to show that even though the broader conversation about education reform remains focused on urban and inner-city schools, there’s still work to be done in rural schools as well. And of course, regardless of location, Kentucky schools still have the tall task of making those improvements a reality.
We All Want Better Schools. But How Do We Get There?
It’s no secret: More school funding isn’t just another item on Kentucky teachers’ wish list. Last spring, educators lobbied and protested for state funding in a way we’ve never seen before. Many of them argued that stagnant or weakened school funding could be detrimental to students’ performance.
Perhaps that’s true. I certainly won’t argue against better-funded schools and all the advantages that come along with them. But that doesn’t mean that better funding is the silver bullet for improving Kentucky’s schools.
For starters, that’s because taxpayers aren’t too keen on investing more money on education. Kentucky is already a cash-strapped state, but as the Prichard study shows us, only Louisville and Lexington residents are willing to pay more in taxes to bolster K-12 education funding. In the more rural parts of the state (in addition to our Just-South-of-Cincy friends in NKY), tax hikes for public education are a non-starter.
But even then, more funding doesn’t necessarily translate into better schools. To borrow a line from Jason Mraz, even if you’ve got the money, that doesn’t mean you’ve got the remedy.
Kentucky has already proven that it doesn’t take big spending to improve student achievement; instead, it’s going to take a new approach.
It’s going to take teachers who are inspiring and engaging, and who are invested deeply in the communities where they work. It’s also going to take a renewed commitment to educational equity for all students, regardless of race, income, or zip code. And finally, before any of that can be achieved, it’s going to take an open-minded approach on behalf of educators and a discourse that focuses on students more than politics.
Will the fight for better schools be easy? Of course not. But this is Kentucky, and that’s what we do.