The way Daphne Patton remembers it, it was more money than she’d ever seen.
It was 1990, and the Kentucky Supreme Court had declared the state’s school funding system unconstitutional. Within a year, a lot more money started flowing to the poorest school districts, a 50 to 60 percent increase in their budgets.
Patton, an elementary school teacher from Wolfe County in eastern Kentucky, says schools had an abundance of resources, “everything we needed.”
The ruling forced lawmakers to re-imagine how Kentucky would pay for its schools by mandating that they reduce disparities between rich and poor districts.
“The best of the best things happened for our kids,” Patton recalls. “We were able to buy books. We were able to invest in technologies.”
More than a third of people in Wolfe County live in poverty, but the district was able to hire more teachers. Patton says that solution is the kind of thing wealthy school districts take for granted. But this is Appalachia, she adds: Here, education is akin to an escape plan from poverty.