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House panel reviews plan to boost K-12 funding

By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A school spending plan awaiting a vote by the House budget committee would go along with the governor's recommendation for a sizable funding increase for public kindergarten-through-12th-grade classrooms across Kentucky.

The proposal from a budget subcommittee on Monday also calls for extra funding to expand preschool services, but at a lower amount than recommended by Gov. Steve Beshear in January. It also retains the governor's proposed pay raises for teachers and other school employees.

"This budget that we're presenting ... delivers better education for all Kentuckians," said Democratic Rep. Kelly Flood of Lexington, who heads the budget subcommittee on primary and secondary education.

The entire draft spending plan was reviewed ahead of expected votes this week by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee - and later by the full House - on the approximately $20 billion, two-year state budget.

The work shifts to the Republican-led Senate once the budget clears the Democratic-run House. The General Assembly's 60-day session is more than two-thirds complete, and work on the budget will dominate the final weeks of the session.

The spending outline presented Monday to the House budget panel largely reflects Beshear's spending recommendations nearly two months ago.

"Most of his large and primary initiatives will remain virtually intact," said Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand.

In one change, the House budget committee seemed poised to drop a recommendation that would have let county property valuation administrators charge new fees to special taxing districts, including libraries, fire departments and health departments.

The fees could total millions of dollars a year, prompting complaints from the taxing districts.

"I got letter after letter after letter from all over the state from fire departments and all special districts saying we just can't afford to do that, our budgets won't allow it," said Rand, D-Bedford.

The draft version under review by the House panel includes an additional $15.9 million each year to restore the base funding level for PVAs, and calls for an extra $2 million over the biennium for their operations.

"They made a strong case that they do need extra money," Rand said. "We could not pass the plan that they had."

Beshear emphasized education in his budget proposal, calling for a reshuffling of state funds to bolster funding for public schools.

The plan presented to the House budget panel closely mirrors Beshear's proposal to increase funding for the state's main funding formula for elementary and secondary education.

The draft House plan would cut funding of many state agencies by 5 percent, as Beshear recommended, to free up money for education.

From 2000 to 2008, the main funding formula for K-12 classrooms grew an average of 3.4 percent yearly, Beshear has said. Since 2008, when the recession hit, funding has been flat, even as the state recovers from the economic downturn.

The House panel's draft also sticks with the governor's proposed 2.5 percent cut in operating funds for universities and community and technical colleges in the first year of the budget cycle. It keeps the governor's proposals for bond-funded construction projects for the universities and colleges.

The House draft includes funding to hire more social workers and to provide pay raises for court system employees.

It includes a number of revisions to the governor's spending plan.

It recommends an extra $6.1 million over two years to help commonwealth's and county attorneys cover operations. It proposes an additional $1.6 million for enhanced 911 emergency services. It recommends an additional $1 million each year for Family Resource Centers and Volunteer Services.

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