How a Big Bold Future is achievable with the right investments for education: Opinion

A growing economy where Kentuckians have access to jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage and the opportunity to build wealth. A future where every Kentuckian can thrive, contribute to and benefit from our shared progress as a state.

This is the Big Bold Future we envision.

It includes access to quality early childhood programs that support little learners while their family is at work, a world-class public-school education that prepares every learner for post-high school success, and high-quality, marketable degrees and credentials that allow Kentuckians to fill the jobs available today and to be the job creators of our future.

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Making this vision a reality requires sustained, visionary leadership coupled with strategic measurable investments.

Kentucky has moved the needle on education outcomes – climbing from the bottom of the national rankings in the 1980s to roughly the middle now. However, we’ve not budged on persistent poverty, where Kentucky consistently ranks in the bottom of states nationally.

Taking the next giant leap – for today’s students and their children – requires bold thinking and bold action.

Two years ago, the Prichard Committee unveiled a 6-year plan to add $1 billion to the state’s education budget in strategic areas where the investment could be measured for impact. We called it our Big Bold Ask. Then the pandemic hit. But, even with the impact of the pandemic, the General Assembly made serious progress on the Big Bold Ask in the first two years of the plan. It met our request for strategic investments in early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary. The General Assembly is to be commended for such bold and committed action.

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We urge the General Assembly to maintain progress on the plan in this next budget. Proposed investments by the House would make significant progress in the K-12 and higher-ed components of the Big Bold but is silent on childcare and preschool. The Senate’s proposal makes significant progress in higher-ed but little to no progress in K-12 and early childhood.

As the House and the Senate begin to work together to bridge the differences in their proposals, we urge a clear investment agenda that moves all three areas of Kentucky’s education pipeline forward:

  1. Early Childhood: Childcare is a critical need for Kentucky’s workforce and for increasing Kentucky’s labor participation rate. Preschool and child care funding together can be powerfully leveraged to realize strength in the early childhood sector that will pay dividends in economic and education returns for generations to come.

  2. A World-Class Public Education: Full funding for kindergarten and school bus transportation by the General Assembly will free up local taxpayer dollars to be invested in education the way the local community decides. The third component of this part of our plan is investing in our teachers by committing resources annually to support their professional learning and increased compensation for quality measures like National Board Certification. Research consistently shows that when it comes to improving education outcomes, teaching matters most. There is no better strategic investment than the investment we make in accomplished teaching.

  3. Increased Postsecondary Attainment: Preparing Kentuckians to compete in today’s economy and the economy of the future requires education beyond high school. Increases in successful completion of four-year degrees, two-year degrees and post-high school certifications and credentials is critical to improve Kentucky’s competitiveness for quality jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage. Investing deeply in post-high school education must be Kentucky’s next step for a Big Bold Future.

Simply put, a comprehensive vision for the education pipeline is critical to ensure Kentuckians have access to employment that pays a family-sustaining wage, an early childhood sector that supports working families and little learners and a world-class public education that equips every student with the knowledge and skills they need for the future.

You can help achieve a Big Bold Future for Kentucky – with education at the core:

Contact your legislator today and urge to invest in the Big Bold Ask for all Kentucky families: https://bit.ly/34KzGp6.

Clay Ford, partner at E.M. Ford & Co. in Owensboro, serves as chair of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Brigitte Blom is president & CEO of the Prichard Committee.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: How a Big Bold Future is achievable with investments in education: Opinion

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