Elissa Nadworny/NPR

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.

Henderson High School

Henderson County High School is gearing up for its new School of Fine Arts.

Current courses in voice, instrumental music, theater, dance and the visual arts will be expanded to create career tracks.

High school fine arts coordinator Brian Ettensohn is spearheading the program. He says the goal is to provide in-depth training that leads to a career path.

“There are a high number of students who are in probably band and theater, or possibly choir and theater,” says Ettensohn. “These are students that are passionate, highly passionate, about the arts. And they’re going on to college and looking at a career.”

The new program is being developed with existing staff.  So there will be no additional expense to the school district.

Ettensohn says one of the biggest challenges is parents.


Western Kentucky University is one step closer to hiring an executive search firm to look for the school’s next president.

The Board of Regents on Friday approved a motion to award a bid to the Boston-based firm Isaacson, Miller.

Dr. Phillip Bale of Glasgow, the chairman of the WKU presidential search committee, said the committee was impressed with the recent track record of Isaacson, Miller.

“They’ve done many presidential searches within the last few years. They’ve done the presidential searches for Vanderbilt, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Illinois, just to name a few.”

The proposed contract with the firm has to be approved by the state next month.


The faculty and staff at Western Kentucky University are being asked to give input related to the search for the school’s next president.

A forum for faculty is being held Friday afternoon, April 15,  on campus, and staff members are invited to a forum Friday, April 22.

WKU President Gary Ransdell has announced he’ll retire at the end of June 2017.

Doctor Phillip Bale of Glasgow, chair of the presidential search committee, says the early announcement by Ransdell gives the committee ample time to do a thorough job.

“I envision the next several months will be spent mainly developing our position profile—that is, what sort of skill set and what sort of attributes do we want the next president to have,” Dr. Bale said.

Ransdell will have served as WKU president for 20 years when he steps down.


Western Kentucky University president Gary Ransdell says the state’s universities have reached a compromise with Governor Matt Bevin and House and Senate leaders over cuts to higher education funding.

In an email to faculty and staff Saturday, Ransdell said schools would get back some of the state funding that Bevin recently cut from the last quarter of the current fiscal year. The governor had enacted a 4.5 percent cut, saying the money was needed to help bolster the state’s public pension systems.

Under the plan described by Ransdell, that cut will be reduced to 2 percent. For WKU, that means a one-time loss of $1.49 million, instead of $3.35 million.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has challenged Bevin’s authority to unilaterally enact such cuts to the current fiscal year support for universities, and has said he’ll sue the Governor over the issue.

Ransdell says the deal negotiated Friday also spells out cuts for universities over the next two fiscal years.

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The number of high school seniors in the state going on to pursue bachelor’s and associate’s degrees has remained steady, according to two new reports from the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics.

The “Kentucky High School Feedback Report on College Going” and the “Kentucky High School Feedback Report on College Success” show that six in 10 graduates of public high schools in the state in 2014 enrolled in college and scored as being better-prepared for college courses. The figure was virtually identical in 2013.

Of those 2014 graduates, more than 50 percent were pursuing a bachelor’s degree and about 36 percent were seeking an associate’s degree.

Both the highest and lowest percentage of high school graduates attending college can be found in Jefferson County.

Dupont Manual High School has the highest percentage at 92 percent, while Valley Traditional High School has the lowest percentage at 33.9 percent.


The student body president at Western Kentucky University says recent cuts to higher education will be detrimental to the state’s public colleges and universities, but for now, he thinks WKU is weathering a storm that could become more severe. 

After House and Senate negotiators failed to reach a budget compromise, Governor Matt Bevin issued an executive order to cut higher education funding by 4.5% before the end of this fiscal year.  For WKU, that amounts to more than $3.3 million. 

Jay Todd Richey, president of the Student Government Association, fears a trend is developing in higher education.

"A cut like this from the governor does nothing to ease my fear that we're facing a privatization of higher education in this country," Richey told WKU Public Radio.

Richey says he agrees with President Ransdell’s decision to tap into the school’s reserve fund to make up for the cut. 

The junior from Glasgow says he’s concerned about the school’s long-term financial stability, citing bond debt and stagnant enrollment.  He hopes future budget cuts are not offset by tuition increases.

The Kentucky House and Senate remain at odds over whether to cut higher education funding even more in the next two-year budget.


Western Kentucky University president Gary Ransdell says the school will tap into the University Reserve Fund to meet mandated budget cuts ordered by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Bevin ordered an immediate 4.5% cut to all higher education funding. For WKU, that amounts to a little over $3.3 million.

In an email to WKU faculty and staff Monday afternoon, Ransdell wrote the timing of the budget cuts left him with no other choice but to take the money from the Reserve Fund. "Given the lateness in the fiscal year and the extraordinary circumstances that would be required of the campus to reduce campus operating budgets that have already been obligated," he wrote, " we have decided the best course of action is to seek approval at the April Board of Regents' meeting to draw down the University Reserve Fund to carry us through the end of the fiscal year."


WKU President Gary Ransdell has issued a statement Friday morning in response to Gov. Matt Bevin's order that state universities immediately incur a 4.5 percent funding cut.

Bevin has told his Finance and Administration Secretary and Budget Director to make the cuts to the quarterly transfers of funds scheduled to take place Friday to the state's eight public universities and Community and Technical College System.

Here is Ransdell's statement:

"We are aware of the Governor's decision to proceed with cutting 4.5 percent from university budgets by withholding it from the fourth quarterly allotments that are scheduled for today. Our budget is complex and nearly two-thirds personnel. We will likely have to tap some of our reserve funds to manage a $3.5 million reduction at this late date in the fiscal year, but we will make those decisions in the next few days.”

University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey also issued a statement Friday morning.

Lisa Autry, WKU Public Radio

Grief counselors will be at the Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School in Bowling Green Thursday following the death of a 5th grade student Wednesday evening. 

Ten-year-old Giselle Arias was struck by a car on Gordon Avenue near her home. She was pronounced dead at the scene by the Warren County Coroner's Office.

Bowling Green Police Department Spokesman Ronnie Ward said the car that hit Arias was driven by 36-year-old Angela Clark of Bowling Green. Three juveniles were in the car. No one inside the vehicle was injured.  Ward added that he doesn't expect any criminal charges to be filed.

Lisa Autry

Proposed budget cuts to education are threatening Kentucky’s family resource centers that provide services to low-income students. 

The centers work to reduce barriers to learning by providing students with necessities like food and clothing. 

At Warren Elementary in Bowling Green, 90 percent of students are on free lunch.  Family Resource Coordinator Amy Carter says 28 languages are spoken at the school.

"The new children coming in from out of the country will need everything from clothing and school supplies to even beds and furniture to get those families set up to give them a good, even start," Carter explained.

Under 4.5 percent cuts proposed by Governor Matt Bevin, Warren Elementary would have to reduce some services, and district wide, the Warren County school system would have to lay off five family resource assistants next year. 

The Kentucky Senate is expected to vote on its version of the state budget on Wednesday.  Those working in education hope the Senate plan is similar to the House budget that restored the funding cuts.


Kentucky’s higher education institutions would compete for a portion of their state funding under the Senate’s budget proposal, which will be fully unveiled later this week.

The competition would be based on degrees produced, graduation rates, retention rates and closing “achievement gaps” among low-income students and underrepresented minorities.

“Whoever’s excelling deserves to be rewarded,” said Sen. David Givens, a Greensburg Republican and main architect of the policy, which he said would go into effect in 2018.

Schools would be separated into three tiers and compete for about 25 percent of their state funding.

The University of Kentucky and University of Louisville would compete in the first tier. The second tier would include the five regional universities: Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, Morehead State University and Murray State.

Kentucky’s education leaders are getting ready to develop a new accountability system and the public has a chance to offer suggestions. 

Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt is hosting town hall meetings across the state this month and next.  Pruitt says he wants an accountability system that's fair, reliable and easier to understand.

"We're not going to do away with testing and accountability, but I also want to look at school practices," Pruitt told WKU Public Radio.  "It's not okay for us to drop the arts.  It's not okay to not have access to career and technical programs or science and social studies.  What we want to do is build a system that looks at inputs, as well as outputs."

Congress recently re-authorized the Every Child Succeeds Act which shifts more of the responsibility for schools from the federal government to the state.  That includes how accountability is determined and how to define and improve low-performing schools.

Here's a schedule of upcoming town hall meetings in the WKU Public Radio listening area.  All meetings are 6:30-8:00pm, local time.

  • March 22, Campbellsville University-Gheens Recital Hall
  • March 29, Owensboro-Daviess County High School Auditorium
  • April 27, Bowling Green-GRREC Offices and Training Center
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Kentucky high school students would have to pass the same test given to people seeking U.S. citizenship in order to earn a diploma under a bill that has cleared the Senate Education Committee.

The bill would require students to answer correctly on at least 60 of the 100 questions to pass. Students could take the test as many times as necessary to pass.

Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Jared Carpenter of Berea said the bill would make sure students have the same educational foundation as people who want to become U.S. citizens.

If it passes, the testing requirement would take effect on Jan. 1. The Kentucky Department of Education would have to create the tests. Special accommodations would be required for the blind and hearing impaired.

Owensboro Community and Technical College

A Daviess County college is trying to address the shortage of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing in Kentucky.  Owensboro Community and Technical College breaks ground on its new $12 million  Industry Innovation Center on March 4. 

The new building will allow welding, electrical, and heating and air conditioning programs to move into state-of-the-art facilities.

College president Scott Williams says those programs will have some unique training that’s in demand for advanced manufacturing.   

“Robotic welding, robotics, we’ve never been able have those programs, because we’ve not had the room to do robotics,” says Williams.

“We now will have in this building a robotics lab. So students will learn how to use the robots for welding, as well as the maintenance of the robots,” he says.

The programs in the skilled trades programs will complement robotics and other training needed for business and industry.