The Kentucky General Assembly struck the gavel on Tuesday of this week, officially convening the 2019 Regular Session. While this is Kentucky’s odd-year, short 30-day session, activity, and interest will be substantial with over 30 new members taking their seats and a gubernatorial election beginning to heat up.
Education issues will remain at the forefront of policymakers’ priorities. Here are the top education issues the Prichard Committee will be watching as the legislative session progresses.
- SCHOOL SAFETY – The School Safety Working Group – chaired by Senator Max Wise and Representative John Carney – met throughout 2018 in the wake of last January’s shooting in Marshall County. Legislation developed from this work is expected to be a top priority in both chambers and the Committee looks forward to helping support and shape the outcome. Nasim Mohammadzadeh – a member of our Voice Team – served on this critical working group.
- SCHOOL-BASED DECISION MAKING COUNCILS – SB 3 has been introduced in the Senate and would make changes to the structure and authority of SBDM’s. School councils represent an important part of Kentucky’s shared governance model developed in 1990 and changes should be made cautiously and with input from all stakeholders. Parent and community engagement in education decision-making is a core foundational value of Kentucky’s system of accountability and education progress. Evaluating the effectiveness of the SBDM governance model is a good idea if any changes serve to strengthen school-level decision making that supports student learning. Key provisions include: changing membership on SBDM’s include 2 parents, and 2 teachers and the principal from the current 3 teachers; and altering the principal hiring process requiring the principal to be selected by the superintendent after consultation with school council. Some of these changes to the SBDM governance model are also part of the Kentucky Board of Education’s legislative agenda adopted on December 5th, 2018. Commissioner Wayne Lewis highlighted these priorities in recent media from the KDE.
- PENSION LEGISLATION – In December, the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down SB 151 of the 2018 regular session, the public employees’ pension reform bill, leaving open the possibility that the legislature will revisit this highly charged issue. The chance of any legislation’s success this session remains unknown at this point. Past proposals have not met the Committee’s criteria for pension reform: keeping our promises to the teachers that led our progress over the last decade and supporting a professional compensation package (inclusive of salaries and retirement benefits) that attracts and retains the teachers who will lead Kentucky to the top tier of all states in education progress. Therefore, pension reform must reflect foresight and commitment to total teacher compensation packages that attract and sustain the highest-quality teaching workforce, necessary to support Kentucky’s continued climb from the middle to the top tier of all states. It is imperative that we recognize, teachers do the core work that equips Kentucky’s students with the knowledge and skills needed for our state’s economic progress and increased quality of life.
- DIFFERENTIATED TEACHER PAY – In 2018, SB 152was enacted allowing school districts to provide compensation in addition to that provided in the single salary schedule for all classroom teachers in a school identified as low performing (defined as targeted or comprehensive support and improvement status). This was in line with recommendations from the Committee’s TEAM on Teacher Effectiveness Report (2013) to develop career pathways to professionalize teacher pay levels and to encourage the adoption of differentiated pay scales to reflect teacher expertise and activities and the status of teaching as a true profession. In the context of considering total teacher compensation, more opportunities for school districts to align pay structures with teacher career goals, expertise, district needs, and leadership should be considered. This will be critical to attract and sustain a high-quality teaching workforce necessary to support Kentucky’s continued climb from the middle to the top tier of all states.
- PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL FUNDING – Funding for public charter schools remains an outstanding issue as the enabling legislation passed in 2017 did not establish the permanent mechanism by which charters would receive public dollars. This is also a priority identified by the Kentucky Board of Education. It is uncertain at this time how likely such legislation may be given we are not in a budget session. Any funding mechanism passed for charter schools would likely require appropriation language and require supermajorities for passage during on odd-year session. Funding for public charter schools should not diminish resources currently available to school districts to educate and increase achievement for all students. Any proposal must guarantee that schools and districts remain adequately and equitably funded – and that funding for public charter schools is in addition to funding for the existing public system, effectively increasing Kentucky’s investment in public education. According to our recent Top 20 by 2020 update, Kentucky ranks in the bottom third of the nation for its funding of K-12 schools. Policy-makers must ensure that all public schools in the state receive the necessary state and local public investment to achieve desired goals for student success. It’s hard to get to a point in which public charters would be successful additions to the public-school system when we are not adequately funding the system as it is now.
- 3rd GRADE READING & MATH PROFICIENCY – The Kentucky Board of Education has indicated in their legislative priorities a proposal that would require diagnosis and intervention of reading and mathematics deficiencies for students in grades kindergarten through 3 and the establishment of a retention threshold for students in 3rd grade who fail to meet a minimum standard in reading. The focus on 3rd grade proficiency is critical as research demonstrates how foundational this is to students’ future success. The focus must be on improving and investing in the teaching and learning environment, including:
- Increasing student learning time
- Improving what and how students are taught through knowledge rich curricula and effective professional learning strategies; and
- Early and effective intervention for those students struggling.
It is unclear how, or if, this legislation will take shape. No bill is currently on file. Commissioner Lewis has indicated the KDE is engaging stakeholders across the state to help shape the Department’s proposal. We look forward to supporting and helping to shape these efforts.
- SCHOLARSHIP TAX CREDITS – Past legislative sessions have seen proposals that would establish tax credits for individuals and businesses donating funds to a qualified scholarship granting organization to provide financial support to families to send students to private schools. The estimated cost to the state General Fund of proposals in past years has exceeded $200 million. While similar legislation has yet to be introduced in the 2019 session, the Committee does not support such a measure outside of the context of comprehensive tax reform. The General Assembly has yet to respond to the recommendations of the recently completed Task Force on Tax Expenditures which reviewed nearly $10 billion worth of tax expenditures. Now is not the time to consider more tax breaks when Kentucky’s investments in education – from early childhood through postsecondary – fall short of what is necessary to achieve statewide goals. The evidence is lacking that scholarship tax credits are successful in enhancing academic performance.
- HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS – On December 5th , the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) gave approval for revised regulatory amendments to 704 KAR 3:305 which establish the minimum requirements necessary for a student to receive a high school diploma. The proposed regulation is now in the legislative review process and, barring further revision or delay, will take effect in March. Our take on the revised proposal is here. While agreeing we are leaving far too many students behind without the reading and math skills they need to be successful AND far too many students not fully prepared for success in postsecondary, we remain concerned about the proposal as expressed in our press release following the December 5th KBE meeting and in our written comments on the regulation. Because substantial evidence indicates there may be significant unintended consequences with the proposed changes, we urged the Board to table the amendments and take additional time to learn from the research and other states, consider possible alternatives, and further engage with stakeholders. Effort and resources of our schools, at this time, must be focused on implementing the new accountability model established in Senate Bill 1 of 2017, closing achievement gaps, and ensuring all Kentucky students have:
- High expectations through rigorous course work and adequate supports.
- Greater access to early postsecondary opportunities, including relevant career pathways.
- A highly-qualified teacher in every classroom, every year.
We will continue to keep abreast of the latest developments as the proposal moves through its legislative review.