Irony of ironies, particularly with respect to the wasting of money on education! In a ruling on 13 February, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Wingate, Frankfort, Ky., ruled against the Council for Better Education, made up of 164 of the 175 Kentucky school districts, in its suit against the Kentucky Legislature claiming the General Assembly had under-funded education by well over a billion dollars. By contrast, a similar suit was held as valid by Franklin Circuit Judge Ray Corns in 1989 and later upheld by the Kentucky Supreme Court. The result was the largest tax increase in the state’s history coupled with millions for education and the always-wide-open pork barrel that legislators use to stroke their constituencies. It was called the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and by any measure has been a total disaster.
In the 1980s and for years before, many, if not most, school districts depended on state allocations for virtually their entire school budgets, meaning that, unlike districts populated by citizens willing to tax themselves locally to enhance educational endeavor, they held the effort to the lowest common denominator. Not only did county property-valuation administrators not do their jobs in appraising property to the proper levels and thereby collecting the proper amount of property taxes but in at least one instance in that matter of the 1980s tax bills were not even sent out. The whole thing was a sham and the upshot was that in the allocation of KERA funds the districts that had gone the extra mile in funding their systems were severely penalized through receiving far less in the windfalls than districts that had done little or nothing to see that their systems were adequately funded.
An even more egregious aspect of KERA lay in the fact that the legislators attempted to codify pedagogy, an area it was totally unprepared to “mess with.” Much of its “messing” has been rescinded or grossly overhauled, such as the K-3 integration of 5-year-olds with third-graders and the unbelievable “rewards system” set up ostensibly to reward teachers for just doing what they were already paid to do. The predictable result was widespread cheating, something with which the KERA-era legislators were well acquainted, since a number of their colleagues went to the penitentiary for selling votes, not much different from “fixing test scores” and stealing the “rewards.” The eight expensive resource-centers spread throughout the state and staffed with experts to help failing schools have long since been shut down, and there’s little, if any, evidence that there was ever a need for them.
The 1989 decision was reminiscent of the decision in the mid-1970s by an activist federal judge that neither the Louisville nor Jefferson County school systems in Kentucky, both huge in both area and population, satisfied the law with respect to black-white quotas in their schools, and he ordered the dissolution of both school boards and a total, expensive, integration of their systems, with busing to be used to maintain the proper quotas. Dr. James S. Coleman, the renowned University of Chicago sociologist, was the progenitor of school-busing as the means to correct the quota problem, and the federal judge swallowed that nonsense hook, line, and sinker. This meant that duly elected officials were displaced by court order. Dr. Coleman later determined that his approach was flawed and that busing was not the way to go, but the damage had already been done by a non-elected judge, who surely had no expertise in education, doing what a deliberative body should have done or suffered the consequences legally for not doing.
In his 22-page opinion, Judge Wingate sort of scolded the plaintiffs, making it plain that the legislature had done a good job (opinion not shared in this corner) and that decisions should be determined through testing carried out by the schools and that performance should be judged vis-à-vis that of other states. House Speaker Richards appreciated the verdict but insisted that the schools are under-funded (opinion not shared in this corner).
The answer to the problem lies in rescinding most of what’s left of KERA, principally doing away with the school councils, and ridding the schools of “outcomes-based” pedagogy. Lawmakers generally tend toward throwing money at problems, but it’s worth noting that in the worst school system in the country, Washington, D.C., $12,959 was spent per pupil in 2004, as compared to Kentucky at $6,861 as compared to Utah at $4,991, with Utah easily the best of the three systems. For the 2005-06 school year, Kentucky’s per pupil spending was $7,914 and the average teacher’s salary was $43,275.