Kentucky Education

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Public Education in Kentucky[edit]

Education in Kentucky consists of elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges. In Kentucky, there are 174 school districts. This includes 1,221 public schools and 644,963 students.[1] The majority of Kentucky schools and higher education institutions are accredited through The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).[2]

The state ranks 12th among newly certified public school teachers. The state's education budget distributed in the P-12 level is $4.875 billion, and the federal budget allocates $1.099 billion.[2] As of 2009 the state holds a graduation rate of 83.91 percent. The percent of students entering college, vocational/technical school, the armed forces, employed, or a combination of any of the above is 94.37.[2] Lexington, Kentucky ranks 10th among U.S. cities with the highest percentage of citizens with a bachelor's degree of higher.[3] Kentucky ranks 47th in the country for the percentage of residents with a bachelors degree.[1]The adult illiteracy of the state is 40 percent.,[4] and the K-12 attrition rate ranks 25th in the nation.[1] Over the years, various reforms have aided the state's educational system. The combination of reforms and federal aid have made Kentucky's education progressive.

The Kentucky Commonwealth Diploma[edit]

Kentucky high school students were required to take four Advanced Placement courses (one English, one science or math, one foreign language, and one elective) and sit for the Advanced Placement exam in at least three of the four areas (and receive at least an 8 combined total score). Students whose combined scores on any three Advanced Placement exams meet or exceed a given threshold are eligible to have their registration fees for those exams refunded.[2]
In June 2011, the Kentucky State Board of Education voted to repeal the statute concerning the Commonwealth Diploma, effictively terminating the program. According to spokesperson Lisa Gross, only 3 percent of Kentucky public high school seniors had received the Commonwealth Diploma in the previous year. Furthermore, the state spent around $250,000 yearly reimbursing students for the AP test fees.

Higher Education[edit]

Kentucky has eight public universities, 16 community and technical colleges, and over 30 private colleges and universities. University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville are among the highest enrollment in the state. Among some of the prestigious private colleges are Thomas More University and Asbury University. Another of Kentucky's colleges, Berea College, was the first non-segregated, co-educational college in the South. The ACT or SAT is required for college acceptance. In Kentucky juniors in high school are required to take the ACT.[2]

Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA)[edit]

Public schools in Kentucky were greatly affected when there financing systems were invalidated by court rulings.[5] In Kentucky, the case of Rose v. Council for Better Education produced some of the most radical changes in education throughout the country. Not only did the Kentucky Supreme Court find the financing of schools in the state to be unconstitutional, but it also ruled that the "entire system of common schools is unconstitutional" and required the legislature to "recreate, re-establish" the entire system of public education. In a remarkably brief interlude, the Kentucky General Assembly, in response to the court decision, passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990.[5] It drastically affected the monetary needs of primary to secondary schools.The purpose of KERA was to promote equality in the outcomes of education in the state. It was not merely to provide higher funding in certain areas. The goal was to have consistency in funding and performance.[5]

KERA's Goals[edit]

After the passage of the act, it was determined that the success of it would be based on the following goals:[6]

  1. Use rudimentary communication and math skills that will benefit them in their future.
  2. Develop their abilities to apply core concepts and principles from mathematics, sciences, arts, humanities, social studies, practical living studies, and vocational studies to what they will encounter throughout their lives.
  3. Develop strengths in order to become self-sufficient individuals.
  4. Develop their abilities to become responsible members of a family, work group, and community, including demonstrating effectiveness in community service.
  5. Develop their abilities to think and solve problems in school situations and in a variety of situations they will encounter in life.
  6. Develop their abilities to connect and integrate experiences and new knowledge from all subject matter fields with what they have previously learned and build on past learning experiences to acquire new information through various media services.

Curriculum Changes[edit]

The biggest curriculum change in the elementary grades was the implementation of standardized tests.[5]Essentially, in the General Assembly’s interpretation of KERA, the traditional separation of students by grade (age) is eliminated (or at least reduced) with students of both different ages and abilities found in the same classroom. The traditional classroom with a single teacher is to be replaced (at times) by team teaching.[5] Technology, teamwork, and quantitative methods of evaluation were heavily encouraged. These new ideas were not only encouraged but were accounted for in funding. School councils were also set up to make key decisions on curriculum, policy issues, materials, discipline, and extracurricular programs.[5]


The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the most respected source for comparing Kentucky public school students to those in other states. The most recent scale score results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show Kentucky:

  1. Scoring above national average in fourth and eighth grade science.
  2. Statistically tied with national average in fourth and eighth grade reading, fourth grade writing, and eighth grade mathematics.
  3. Scoring below national average in fourth grade writing and eighth grade math.[7]

In 1998, The Ford Foundation and Harvard University awarded Kentucky's education system the Innovations in American Government Award.[2]From 1999 to 2006, Kentucky schools showed improvement on the state’s CATS assessment in every subject, at every level, for every student group listed in disaggregated data reports.[8] Elementary schools have been improving at a rate much more efficient than the middle schools and high schools.

Changes were also made in governing among the state level. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was created along with the position of Commissioner of Education. The commissioner had veto power over local superintendents, whose power also increased as a result of KERA.[5]

The point of KERA was to equalize any unfairness in the state's education system. Financially, this was primarily done through the program Support Educational Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK). Under this program, districts are to receive a guaranteed level of revenue per student. In 1990-91 this base was $2,305 per pupil and gradually increased to $2,570 per pupil in 1995-96.[5] While the state guarantees this amount of revenue, the district must share in the financing by providing a minimum level of effort equivalent to $0.30 per $100 of property value.[5] This funding, however, need not be obtained through the property tax. [5]Then the state funding, the adjusted base guarantee equals the base plus additional funding for at-risk children, transportation, and exceptional student, minus the local effort. In addition to this uniform funding base, each district can increase its funding by up to 15 percent of the base while receiving state funding if its property value per student is less than 150 percent of the state average. If its property tax base is below this amount, the state provides state funding to guarantee revenue equal to the amount collected on this property value. This is referred to as Tier I funding.[5] Through Tier II funding, the district can collect up to an additional 30 percent beyond the base and Tier I funding, but it will receive no matching state funds. This funding must also be approved by a vote of the electorate in the district. Finally, the state also provided a guaranteed annual minimum increase in state funds (8 percent in 1991-92 and 5 percent in 1991-92) and an annual maximum increase (25 percent).[5]

Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997[edit]

In 1997, the Kentucky General Assembly passed House Bill 1, which was the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act. The law created several new entities: Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), Kentucky Virtual Campus (KYVC), Kentucky Virtual Library (KYVL), Kentucky Virtual Schools (KYVS).[2] In addition to these new entities, the law stated that the University of Kentucky become a Top 20 Research University by the year 2020.[9] The University of Louisville was also mandated to become a viable research facility.[10]

Education Task Force[edit]

In 2008, the Kentucky Commissioner of Education established a task force in order to make recommendations to the 2009 General Assembly.[2]The task force is responsible for analyzing specific components of Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) and determining how effective they are in meeting student needs. The task force held eight meetings in 2008.[11]

Initial Members of the Task Force[edit]


  • Jim Applegate - vice president for academic affairs, Council on Postsecondary Education (Later resigned)
  • Joe Brothers - chairman, Kentucky Board of Education
  • Dale Brown - superintendent, Warren County (representing the Partnership for Successful Schools)
  • Paula Eaglin - Kentucky Association of Professional Educators
  • Jenny Lynn Hatter - instructional supervisor, Harrison County (representing the Kentucky Association of School Administrators)
  • Rep. (later Sen.) Jimmy Higdon - R-Lebanon, Kentucky
  • Brenda Jackson - past president, Kentucky School Boards Association
  • Sen. Dan Kelly - R-Springfield, Kentucky, now state court judge
  • Mike Lafavers - principal, Boyle County Middle (representing the Kentucky Association of School Councils)
  • Roger Marcum - superintendent, Marion County (representing the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents)
  • Former Sen. Vernie McGaha - R-Russellville, Kentucky
  • Rep. Harry Moberly - 81st District, D-Richmond, Kentucky
  • Helen Mountjoy - secretary, Education Cabinet
  • Sharron Oxendine - president, Kentucky Education Association
  • Rep. Frank Rasche, D-Paducah, Kentucky (Retained on task force after resigning from house seat to become Kentucky Department of Education Employee)
  • Speaker of the House Jody Richards - D-Bowling Green, Kentucky
  • Wayne Roberts - district assessment coordinator, Wayne County (representing the Kentucky Association of Assessment Coordinators)
  • Rep. Carl Rollins - D-Midway, Kentucky
  • Sandy Rutledge - president-elect, Kentucky PTA
  • Bob Sexton - executive director, Prichard Committee
  • Diana Taylor - Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
  • Sen. Johnny Ray Turner - D-Drift, Kentucky

Members Later Added[edit]

  • Steve Stevens - president, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
  • Doris Redfield - State Liaison (psychometrician—technical testing expert), Edvantia
  • Richard Crofts - interim president, Council on Postsecondary Education
  • Rep. Tim Firkins, D-Louisville, Kentucky
  • Suznne McGurk - system registrar, KY Community and Technical College System
  • Elaine Farris - deputy commissioner, KY Department of Education
  • Ken Draut - associate commissioner, KY Department of Education
  • Marlene Helm - commissioner of social services, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government

Task Force Facilitator[edit]

David Spence - president, Southern Regional Education Board