Lobbying effort for academy underway

Mai Hoang

Western plans to have a posse behind it when it goes to the General Assembly in January and asks for funding to start the Kentucky Academy of Math and Science.

President Gary Ransdell and others on the Hill are traveling more miles these days to convince influential government and education officials to support the academy.

The ultimate goal is to get on the governor’s budget recommendation in 2004 for an easier track to $2.6 million in funding needed to operate the academy.

The academy will enable gifted Kentucky high school juniors and seniors to earn as much as 60 college credits and to live on Western’s campus while finishing their high school education.

Julia Roberts, director of the Center of Gifted Studies, said it is essential to keep legislators well-informed about the academy and its benefits for the state.

With Kentucky ranked 47th out of 50 states in the number of scientists and engineers, Roberts said a good secondary education for gifted students could prompt them to return to Kentucky to work, even if they go elsewhere for college.

“I think it’s very important to share with the decision-makers that it’s an economic and educational interest in our state to have this academy of mathematics and sciences,” she said.

Roberts and Ransdell have talked to a group of area school district superintendents in the Green River Regional Education Cooperative to inform them about the academy and gain support from educators.

“The academy will be inviting the best and the brightest from their district,” he said. “If educators in the state aren’t supportive of it then it won’t get far or make sense.”

Ransdell said the superintendents who met with him showed unanimous support for the project.

“I think they understand that this is an academy designed to challenge and bring the full potential of gifted and talented students, and those students excel in an environment where their peers are equally gifted,” he said. “That environment can not typically exist in a given high school; they recognize that.”

Liz Storey, executive director of the Green River Regional Education Cooperative, said she has sent a letter showing their unanimous support to state legislators, Ransdell and state education officials.

She said the support of local educators was essential.

“I think it strengthens the university’s position,” she said. “And points to the spirit of collaboration in place between Western and the public schools.”

John Settle, superintendent of the Bowling Green City Schools, is one of the members of the Green River Regional Education Cooperative that supports the project. He said he plans on voicing his support to state legislators.

The academy will provide gifted students a setting that may be more fitting than typical high school surroundings, he said.

“It’s difficult to give the challenges that are commensurate with their abilities while serving everyone else,” Settle said.

Ransdell said he will be meeting with Gene Wilhoit, Kentucky’s Public Education Commissioner. Western officials met with him several years ago, the last time Western tried to gain funding.

“He may have some recommendations of the most appropriate budget that the academy could be funded,” he said.

Robbin Taylor, director of governmental relations, said major players in the state government have shown their support.

This summer, gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher visited Western to see one of its gifted student summer camps. After his visit, he sent a letter of support to Western promising that the academy be a funding priority in 2004 in his administration, Taylor said.

Ransdell is currently arranging a meeting with Fletcher’s opponent, Ben Chandler, to talk about the project. Chandler has also showed interest in the project, Taylor said.

“I’m very comfortable that both of them like the project, are aware of the project and will make the effort to fund the project,” she said.

State legislators like House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, have also already shown their support for the project, Taylor said.

“I’m very much for it and I will do anything I can to advance it,” Richards said.

Regardless of which gubernatorial candidate is elected in November, the changes of funding for the academy will lie in the governor’s budget recommendation.

It is a lot easier to keep a governor’s budget recommendation on the table than having one state legislator try to put the item on the budget during the General Assembly session, Taylor said.

“We want this to be a state-wide initiative, it benefits the state in many ways,” Taylor said. “We want this to be seen as a state-wide initiative, not a Western initiative.”

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]