By Phil Moffett
My interest in K-12 and post-secondary education started in the 1990’s when I discovered how poorly our public school students performed considering the incredible amount of money we spend annually on public education.
My criticism of our public school systems’ performance earned me a reputation of being “anti-public schools.” This could not be farther from the truth.
I believe society has a moral obligation to provide an opportunity for a quality public education to every Kentucky student; “quality” being the key word.
Unfortunately, numbers show a student’s true opportunity for a quality public education exists in amounts too small to justify our spending levels. We are grossly inefficient with our education investments.
A good example of our inefficiency presented itself recently.
In June, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released the Leaders & Laggards Report Card on Postsecondary Education.
The report was not very kind to Kentucky’s eight public universities, our 16 two-year institutions or our state government. In seven unique measurements, they earned a cumulative 1.9 GPA on a 4-point scale, a D+.
It’s fair to say Kentucky’s lagging pretty far from the Dean’s List.
Value is best defined as what you get for what you pay. We know what we’re getting, a 1.9 GPA. Now, what do we pay?
According to Kentucky’s state budget allocation, they are spending $6,286,372,500 on post-secondary education in 2012-2013, second only to Medicaid. This includes General Fund dollars, Tobacco Settlement funds and federal funding.
Roughly $6.3 billion is a lot of money, even with today’s multitrillion-dollar deficits. With 144,199 students in Kentucky’s post-secondary institutions, we are spending an eye-popping average of $43,595 per student per year; before the student pays a penny for tuition.
I wonder how this compares to the value supplied by private schools and the for-profit institutions under investigation by Attorney General Jack Conway?
In our current reality of massive budget deficits at all levels of government, we must look for alternatives that ease the burden on taxpayers and improve the quality of public education. Focus needs to shift away from education systems to student performance. For this to happen, it means the governor and legislature need to get on the ball.
Part of the Chamber study grades Kentucky’s state government’s policy environment and tendencies related to innovation with online learning and openness to new providers.
In this area, state government earned a 1.67 GPA, which includes an F for openness to new providers. They cite our very restrictive regulatory environment.
Their performance does little to inspire confidence in their ability to adapt, but maybe they can learn.
The Chamber study makes five solid recommendations our state should strongly consider. None of it will happen, however, until the legislature demands more transparency, acceptance of successful, innovative education models, and public-private partnerships.
Significant budget cuts on the way to cover federally mandated Medicaid expansion, public-pension funding deficits and increasing state debts.
One of the primary ways to offset these mandatory spending increases is to increase efficiency in other areas of state government.
Efficiency in public educations should be a phase-one target.
About Phil Moffett: Phil Moffett is a Louisville-based businessman and former Republican gubernatorial candidate.