A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kenton Co. high schoolers take the stage, spotlight in regional forum on school funding

By Brad Hughes
Special to KyForward

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday pitched the potential benefits to schools from Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget proposal. Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson urged a crowd of 200 to get involved one-on-one with their legislators to back the funding increase.

But it was the student voice, particularly that of two Kenton County high schoolers, that had people buzzing after Wednesday night’s Northern Kentucky Champions for Education forum on the campus of Northern Kentucky University.

“At the beginning of this year, my mom paid $500 for AP courses for my sister and me,” said Andrea Bomkamp, a student at Dixie Heights High School. “Some students take the AP courses but can’t afford the AP exams. The best educated students can’t just be the wealthiest ones. Every student, regardless of income, should have the opportunity to be valedictorian and take the higher level courses. Every student in my school and my state should be able to have the same opportunity for a quality education.”

Hannah Hodgson, a senior at Simon Kenton High school, shared a challenge common to students in many schools across the state.

“Every instructional moment is critical. (But) when I log on at school, with all the staff and students accessing the same wi-fi, it takes several moments to load anything,” she said. “With 1,700 students in my school, technology is almost always in use. But with all of the students and staff accessing the same wi-fi, the current bandwidths are stressed.”

Bomkamp has had similar experiences in her school.

“I’m fortunate to go to a school with technology, but it’s an enormous waste of instructional time when students are just sitting there looking at that little circle (indicating the access is taking time),” she said. “Eventually, teachers say, ‘Forget it, we have to move on.’ That’s a tragedy.”

“School is viewed by some people as simply a necessary expense. But if we can sufficiently fund our schools, we will see an incredible return on investment,” Bomkamp said to a round of applause. “Help us show you how much more we are capable of.”

Holliday said the governor’s budget proposal included “the big three” in funding restoration sought by the Kentucky Board of Education: base SEEK, flex focus programs and technology.

“My message is simple: Kentucky educators have done remarkable work. We’ve made remarkable progress. We’ve done it through difficult times with less money. But we’ve reached the point where we can’t get more blood out of this turnip,” the commissioner said.

“Our educators’ morale is teetering. They’re proud of what they’ve done. We’ve got to get morale boosters for their basic needs and a little pay raise to pat you on the back and say ‘Thank you,’” he said. “Every teacher I know goes to work every day and says, ‘How can I help this child?’ The least we can do is to find ways to fund them and support them.”

The forum was sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Education Action Team, a coalition of educators, business leaders and individuals and groups backing increased funding for K-12 schools. NKEAT co-chairman and Pendleton County Schools Superintendent Anthony Strong asked the audience to help make the school funding case to their legislators.

“We’re here because we care about children and what it does for our region and our state. We need you as citizens and voters to stand up and be counted in terms of what we do to accomplish the work,” he said.

Brad Hughes is director of member support for the Kentucky School Boards Association and writes for the association’s eNews service.

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