Legislation enacted in response to the seminal Rose v. Council for Better Education case, decided in 1989 and subsequently cited favorably by several sister state courts, improved educational opportunity and academic achievement in Kentucky. 

Status & Recent Developments

In 2007, a state trial court granted summary judgment to defendants in the most recent Kentucky school funding decision.  The court held that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the school funding system was inadequate because they had focused only on expenditures and had not shown inadequate outcomes, and that the system was not arbitrary, because it had improved achievement within the state. Plaintiffs did not appeal.

Major Cases

In 1989, in Rose v. Council for Better Education, the Supreme Court of Kentucky held that the General Assembly did not satisfy the constitutional requirement that it provide an efficient system of common schools throughout state. The court held that, in order to meet the constitutional “efficiency” requirement, the education system must be adequately funded, ensure equality and provide each and every child with at least seven delineated capacities.

In 2007, a state trial court granted summary judgment to defendants on two cases that had been consolidated - Council for Better Education v. Williams and Young v. Williams.  The court distinguished the plaintiffs’ adequacy claim from Rose because the plaintiffs’ arguments were grounded in inadequate educational expenditures, and included no evidence of inadequate outcomes. The court also concluded that, since achievement in the state had improved under the funding system, the system was not arbitrary.

For more detailed information, email Education Justice.

State Constitution Education Article

“The General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the State." Ky. Const. § 183.

Court Interpretation of Education Article

In Rose v. Council for Better Education, the Supreme Court of Kentucky began by establishing:

“Several conclusions readily appear from a reading of this section. First, it is the obligation, the sole obligation, of the General Assembly to provide for a system of common schools in Kentucky. The obligation to so provide is clear and unequivocal and is, in effect, a constitutional mandate. Next, the school system must be provided throughout the entire state, with no area (or its children) being omitted. The creation, implementation and maintenance of the school system must be achieved by appropriate legislation. Finally, the system must be an efficient one.”  790 S.W.2d 186, 205 (1989).

The court then went on to consider the meaning of “efficient,” finding that the state’s obligation to maintain efficient schools meant that the legislature must carefully supervise the system to ensure “that there is no waste, no duplication, no mismanagement, at any level.” Efficiency, the court concluded, also meant that:

“[t]he system of common schools must be adequately funded to achieve its goals. The system of common schools must be substantially uniform throughout the state. Each child, every child, in this Commonwealth must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education. Equality is the key word here. The children of the poor and the children of the rich, the children who live in the poor districts and the children who live in the rich districts must be given the same opportunity and access to an adequate education. This obligation cannot be shifted to local counties and local school districts.” Id. at 211.

Finally, the court held, “an efficient system of education must have as its goal to provide each and every child with at least the seven following capacities:

  1. sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
  2. sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;
  3. sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
  4. sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
  5. sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
  6. sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
  7. sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market." Id. at 212. 

Courts in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas have adopted this standard as well.

The court also declared education a fundamental right under the state constitution. Id. at 206.

Preschool Claims

There have been no court decisions regarding preschool education in Kentucky.  The plaintiffs in Young v. Williams included a claim for more state funding for preschool education, but the trial court dismissed the case on summary judgment.



The Kentucky Preschool Program requires all school districts to offer a half-day pre-K program to every 4-year-old who meets the eligibility standard for the federal free lunch program and all 3- and 4-year-olds with developmental delays and disabilities regardless of income.

The program served 30% of 4 year-olds and 10% of 3 year-olds during 2009-2010.


The Department of Education’s Early Childhood Standards note that high quality early education programs are “the foundation for an expectation of high level outcomes for young children.”

The program targets very low-income children.  All 4-year-olds with a family income at or below 150% of the federal poverty level are eligible.  The program also serves 3- and 4-year-olds with developmental delays and disabilities, as defined by federal special education law.  Other 4-year-olds may attend a district’s pre-K program if placement is available but those children are funded by the district or tuition, but not the state.

The program is operated primarily through public school districts, although districts may subcontract with private schools, community agencies, Head Start centers or childcare centers to provide pre-K services. Any private program must be separately incorporated from any related religious institution and must not offer religious curriculum.  Any nonpublic program must meet all of the standards for the public pre-K program.  The program runs on an academic calendar year and is a half day schedule. 


Funding is provided through a grant allotment system whereby the Department of Education allocates funds to individual school districts based on the number of eligible children in the district. The Department determines the per child allotment for each year.

These funds must remain separate from all other district funds, and their use is limited to implementation of the preschool program. 

NIEER Analysis

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Kentucky served 30% of all 4-year-olds in its state preschool program in 2009-2010, which is a 2-percentage point increase from the 28% served in 2008-2009.   Also, 10% of 3 year-olds were served, which is represents a slight drop from the 11% served in past years. 

Quality Standards

The program has been given an exceptionally high rating of 9 out of 10 by NIEER. 

The program does not require that teachers’ assistants have Child Development Associate degrees, failing this NIEER benchmark.  Teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree with a specialization in Pre-K/Early Childhood Education.

Program Evaluation

Kentucky implemented the first stage of the Preschool Program Review (P2R) monitoring process through pilots in seven districts in the 2009-2010 school year.  The process includes an Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) for every classroom and an online survey, as well as site-visit teams that examine documentation, observe classrooms, and interview teachers, administrators, and parents. 

The P2R pilot will continue in the 2010-2011 school year with the goal of establishing assessors in each district who can use the ECERS with valid inter-rater reliability to help districts improve their Pre-K services.