- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear proposed reshuffling state funds Tuesday night to bolster Kentucky’s public schools, recommending a large infusion of money for classrooms gained from another round of budget cuts.

Kentucky’s higher education system was among the broad list of targets for spending cuts in the $20.3 billion, two-year state budget plan that Beshear presented to lawmakers.

The second-term Democratic governor outlined his budget priorities in a speech to a joint session of the General Assembly. It marked the starting point for nearly three months of haggling as the Democratic-led House and Republican-controlled Senate craft a budget for the two years starting July 1.

As promised, Beshear found extra money for Kentucky’s elementary and secondary education system by recommending $98.6 million in spending cuts.

The reinvestments in education will make Kentucky more competitive, he said.

“This budget proposal strategically focuses our very limited resources on what I believe will deliver the greatest return: A more highly educated population that will become a more talented workforce,” he said.

Beshear proposed an extra $189 million over current funding for the state’s main funding formula for K-12 classrooms. The increase would raise per-pupil spending to its highest total ever in Kentucky, he said.

From 2000 to 2008, the funding formula grew an average of 3.4 percent yearly, he said. Since 2008, when the recession hit, funding has been flat, even as the state recovers from the economic downturn.

The governor proposed pay raises for teachers and other school employees. He also proposed spending $36 million over two years to expand preschool services to serve an estimated 5,125 more 4-year-olds.

He targeted more funding for textbooks, staff development, extended school services and school safety.

Beshear recommended that many state agencies, including the governor’s office, take a 5 percent budget cut in the first year of the two-year budget cycle. Among other agencies targeted for the cut were the Public Protection, Labor and Finance cabinets, the Agriculture Department and the attorney general’s, auditor’s and treasurer’s offices. Those agencies’ budgets would remain flat in the second year.

He acknowledged the cuts would cause more damage to a state government that has endured about $1.6 billion in state spending cuts in the past six years as tax collections plunged amid the downturn.

The latest cuts could result in delayed services and possible layoffs and facility closures, he said.

He proposed a 2.5 percent budget cut in the first year of the budget cycle for universities, community and technical colleges and Kentucky State Police. As a result, colleges and universities face cumulative cuts of 17 percent since the recession if the latest cuts go through, the governor said.

“This was one of the most difficult choices made in this budget, because higher education deserves more support, not less,” Beshear said. “But there simply is no way to create enough money to make the needed investments in pre-K through 12th grade unless higher education is included in the reductions.”

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