Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has asked all state Universities to cut their current budgets by three percent. For Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, that’s about same amount it costs to fund a year-old program for gifted high school students.
“I’d really like to go to U-C Berkley,” says high school junior Jenny Ludden as she reads a physics textbook in a dormitory lounge. Down the hall, her classmates are taking a college-level astronomy course.
Ludden and the others are students at the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Math and Science. Like other high school students, they’re thinking of the future. Academy director Tim Gott says most students here are applying to “Harvard and Yale and Princeton and Brown.”
“We’ve got students interested in the University of Chicago and Tulane and Florida and Florida Institute of Technology. MIT and CalTech,” says Gott.
Gatton Academy is giving gifted high school juniors and seniors from around Kentucky an advanced education, including college classes. Part of the appeal of similar programs is that the students stay in their home state after graduation. Gott predicts about half of the academy students will go to college in the commonwealth. He says they’ll have little to no trouble getting in. The average ACT score of this year’s class is 27, and the average GPA is 3.9.
That ACT score is more than 6 points higher than the state average. But despite its exclusivity, Gatton isn’t a private school.
Students live and study here at no additional charge to the family. The state spends just over $23.3 thousand per Gatton Academy student. Comparatively, about $8,700 is spent on every other public school student.
“How many physics teachers can you buy with that, how many chemistry teachers can you get with that?” says Gott. “How many advanced math teachers can you get with that? By pooling the money and putting it into one focus, we’re able to have the top math and science curriculum in the state in a place and time when it’s difficult to find even one physics teacher for all the special needs out there.”
“It’s something that I have worked on for more than ten years,” says Kentucky Speaker of the House Jody Richards. “To have a math and science academy.”
Richards’ legislative district includes Gatton. He was instrumental in getting the academy funded.
“The general assembly provided a special appropriation to make this academy a reality. We have 2.8 million in state funding,” he says.
Western Kentucky University chief financial officer Ann Mead says that appropriation came in 2006, with the money to be used exclusively for Gatton.
Now the governor is asking Western to cut 3% of its total budget, which is slightly less than the total cost of the academy.
Mead says the academy is not in danger of closing, but will have to bear its own budget cut of up to three percent.
And Richards says there’s still some unfinished business regarding Gatton that will come up in the current General Assembly. New legislation will make Gatton a full graduating school. Right now, the academy is not authorized to award official diplomas. In the meantime, they’ve made a deal in which the students’ hometown high schools award diplomas students who complete their coursework at Gatton.
So when Jenny Ludden graduates, she’ll get a diploma from Adair County High School, 80 miles away from Gatton Academy.