Workforce and strong funding for K-12 fall under priorities for new education commissioner

Ahead of the 2016 legislative session, the state’s new Education Commissioner, Stephen Pruitt, is focused on building a strong workforce in the state and ensuring that K-12 education gets the funding it needs.

Pruitt started his career as a teacher and has continued working in the education world before landing in Kentucky.

“At the state level, in Georgia, and in my work at the national level, you sort of can’t help but watch Kentucky. Because Kentucky has had this incredible 25 years of dedicated work toward improving education,” Pruitt said.

The new education commissioner said he had never really planned to take a role like this one but when the opportunity came along, he couldn’t say no.

Pruitt is beginning his new position right before the 2016 session where the state budget for the next two years will be crafted.

In past budget sessions, education has seen many cuts as the state looks to plug holes elsewhere in the state’s budget. When asked what he would like to see come out of the next two-year budget, Pruitt said he would like to see the legislature maintain high funding levels for K-12 education.

“Our fundamental requirement is that we have to educate students. So as we go into this session, we want to be at the table, we want to be able to have the conversations so that people, as they make decisions, can see the impact that it will have on kids,” Pruitt said (at 2:00).

In terms of specific legislative priorities, Pruitt told the Chamber that the Department of Education would like to see focus on assessments and funding for career and technical education.

Workforce needs of the state are a central focus of the Kentucky Chamber. When asked what can be done at the K-12 level to address workforce issues, Pruitt said it is a “tough nut to crack” but Kentucky must continue its commitment to ensuring students are college and career ready.

“We need to hear from the business community about what it is they actually need, not just from a skills perspective but also what is the workforce that they need. So, in other words, K-12 can’t just continue to offer courses because we’ve always offered them or particular pathways because we’ve always offered them. We actually need to be at the table with our workforce specialists and say ‘in this area of the state, we need x.’ And we need to be able to be fluid enough and flexible enough that we are able to produce that,” Pruitt said (starting at 3:30 in the interview).

Hear more from Pruitt on his background, legislative priorities and workforce needs in the interview below:

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Jacqueline Pitts
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