For a true example of just how much a court can affect the educational system of any given state, the events that took place in Kentucky should be considered.

The Collaboration

Beginning in 1989, a collaboration of school districts in the state of Kentucky joined together in a pursuit to sue the state for the manner in which it allocated public education funding.

According to Michael Rebel, Columbia University’s director at the Center for Educational Equity, this movement was among the most successful of its kind, which led to progressive and long-lasting changes.

Almost one third out of 170 educational districts in Kentucky joined to argue the inadequacy of the funding formula and that it relied heavily on the local economy, creating large disparities between rich and poor districts. The court favored with the plaintiffs, and as a result, asked lawmakers to rectify the issue.

David Karem, age 74, was a Democrat who devoted 30 years to the Senate and state House as well as holding a seat on the committee dedicated to dealing with the result of this lawsuit. He explained that in the year 1990, the Frankfort legislative session was indeed a struggle, however, it allowed for a new system ensuring Kentucky students would receive equal funding.

“We sat down and we basically said let’s figure out how to create a new system for the state of Kentucky. We created the skeletal structure on some of the pieces we needed. As we went through the meetings and the discussions, then the meat was put on those bones,” Karem added.

Karem noted that it was not an easy task, however, the session produced a renewed funding model that was not based on their students’ location.

“The base was significantly more than it had been in the past, and it was much more state-driven to get that baseline,” Karem stated. “Divorce yourself from the idea of this district vs. that district and look at every student as having a value.”

30 Years Later

Karem proudly added that nearly thirty years later, many education measures and acting laws stem from and remain a valuable result of that session proven by the rise in student achievements throughout the years. After his time with the Legislature, Karem also participated on Kentucky’s Board of Education.

Kentucky was awarded the 28th place in the country for its metrics on the 2017 Quality Counts survey held by Education Week. Nevada, in comparison, received a final position ranking in at 51.

Karem pointed out that although Kentucky previously ranked among the bottom, the changes they achieved have allowed the state to rise in the rankings a positive sign of change and improvement he claimed.

“Considering our economy and a lot of problems that Kentucky has with the loss of jobs in the coal industry … I think it’s fair to say that it’s worked,” Karem said.