A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Fayette Co. Schools failing to improve student performance despite spending, tax increases


By Dan Rose and Ron Vissing
Special to KyForward

The Fayette County public school system (FCPS) is failing to improve student performance despite years of higher spending and taxes. Yet the system continues to increase taxes and spending every year with no accountability to taxpayers or the public at large.

Again, for 2019-20, FCPS has indicated it intends to take advantage of the automatic 4 percent property tax revenue increase by building the increase into its tentative budget. These continual tax and revenue increases cannot be justified when student performance is not improving and actually declining by some measures.

On an inflation-adjusted basis, spending per student has skyrocketed during recent years. Unfortunately, there has been no increase in student performance based on analysis of information from the FCPS website, the information obtained from FCPS in response to an open records request, and enrollment data from the Kentucky Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics.

First, consider how the spending of FCPS has grown in inflation-adjusted dollars, both in the aggregate and on a per-student basis. The FCPS 2019-20 tentative budget is $680 million, which is $16 million more than the 2018-19 Working Budget, and over $36 million more than the 2017-18 Actual Budget.

On a per-student basis, 2019-20 FCPS spending is $16,262 per student (assuming the same enrollment as 2018-19), while per-student spending in 2012-13 (in 2018 inflation-adjusted dollars) was only $13,496. Thus, spending per student has increased more than 20 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis just from 2012 to 2019.

Looking back further, in 2010-11 inflation-adjusted spending was $12,145 per student, in 2000-01 it was $9,897, and for 1992-93 it was $8,898. The numbers clearly demonstrate that FCPS spending is out of control.

During the 25-year period from 1993 to 2018, per student spending in inflation-adjusted dollars increased by a staggering 63 percent. Now let’s consider whether this spending increase resulted in any increase in student performance? Sadly, the answer is no. One key measure of student performance is ACT scores. As chart 1 shows, ACT scores have actually declined since 2014 even while per-pupil spending has ballooned. This is a picture of failure and fiscal mismanagement.

Other measures of student performance are at best mediocre, if not actually worse. For example, as chart 2 depicts, the percentage of FCPS elementary students deemed proficient or distinguished in reading fell from 56.3 to 54.0 from 2014 to 2018.

Likewise, chart 3 shows that the percentage of FCPS elementary students proficient in math has also declined from 2014-18.

These grim statistics prove that the Fayette County schools are failing at improving student performance, both for high school graduates as well as our elementary kids. FCPS has many good teachers and funding per student has exploded in recent years. So why are there no material gains in student performance? What is going on here? Who is even trying to find out?

It clearly is not the Fayette County School Board members who are too busy robotically raising taxes to ask hard questions of Superintendent Caulk. Does anyone want to know why and how FCPS can continue to raise taxes and spend more and more money each with no increase in student performance? Does anyone want to know what FCPS is spending money on since it is obviously not improving the education of our children?

In sum, Fayette County taxpayers, parents, teachers, staff and, most importantly, the students are not getting their money’s worth from our public school system. Spending per student, both in nominal as well as in inflation-adjusted dollars, has exploded during the last 25 years with no evidence of any measurable increase in student performance. In reality, the same educational results could be achieved with substantially less spending.

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Dan Rose (left) is a Lexington native, a graduate of Lafayette High School, the University of Kentucky and The University of Kentucky College of Law. He is a founding member of the law firm Rose Grasch Camenisch Mains PLLC in Lexington.

Ron Vissing is a long time Lexington resident and business owner who serves as a board member for many non-profit and charitable organizations including the Lexington Hearing & Speech Center. Ron was appointed in 2017 by Lexington City Council to the LFUCG Civil Service Board where he currently serves as a Commissioner.


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