The Kentucky Education Reform Act 30 Years Later
Thirty years ago, on April 11, 1990, Governor Wallace Wilkinson signed the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) into law. Those of you who have been longtime members and partners of the Prichard Committee know that our history is grounded in this nationally unprecedented education reform act and the landmark court case that preceded it.
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence emerged from the vision of Edward F. Prichard and his desire to increase the quality of Kentucky education as a “path to a larger life” for more Kentuckians. The Committee grew out of a state appointed council to improve higher education and reorganized in 1983 as a citizens’ group committed to championing the cause of better schools, led by founding executive director, Bob Sexton.
In the decades since the passage of KERA, Kentucky emerged from the bottom of the national education rankings to roughly the middle. Strong standards-based accountability and broad commitment to KERA’s seven guiding principles had significantly increased the quality of education and the state’s education outcomes, as Prichard, Sexton, and the citizen-members of the Committee had envisioned.
Unfortunately, Kentucky’s rise in national rankings hit a plateau in about 2015 and we’ve begun to show signs of decline since then. It is time again for Kentucky to address our decline in education outcomes and also the disparities in educational outcomes for our children in poverty and our children of color. We must do so with great urgency, courage, and commitment.
Our state and local education leaders, legislators, community leaders and families, must be brave, steady, and focused on sustainable responses that help our children prepare for a successful adulthood.
This week, as we remember the history of KERA and the Prichard Committee, let us also look towards the future and ponder what actions citizens and lawmakers must take to ensure that all Kentuckians can realize their path to a big, bold future.
For more on the 30th anniversary of KERA, look for a story by Olivia Krauth in the Courier-Journal this Saturday, and read a personal reflection piece from Susan Weston on our blog.