In Conversation With… features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. This month’s installment features interviews with both House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort), a retired educator, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green), who manages a Christian radio station. The focus is the 2014 session of the General Assembly, which convenes in January. Click here for the article with Sen. Wilson.
Q: What are your priorities for this legislative session?
A: Obviously, the top priority is funding for education. School districts across the Commonwealth have been sending us petitions asking us to restore SEEK funding to the 2008 level, which I believe is $60 million in the first year of the biennium and $30 million in the second year of the biennium. It would be good if we could just restore it to that level. The other priority is promoting the development of early childhood education – funding that and promoting its importance within the local communities. This is where I see that public-private partnerships could play a key role.
Q: What would you like to see happen with preschool education?
A: Public school districts could help private day cares and preschools located in their area by sending staff out to work with the employees of private programs in promoting development and readiness for preschool and kindergarten. If we can get school districts around the state to work with their area preschools and be willing to let their staff go in and assist with training private providers in early childhood education needs, that would go a long way to help prepare children to be successful in school.
I was talking with the (state’s) Early Childhood Development people, and it is my understanding that we need some kind of system that alerts parents to the importance of young children’s brain development, starting from the moment a child is born. For example, if we could work with hospitals and the medical community to provide information to new parents on the importance of brain development much as they do now with car seat safety, that would help them realize the importance of that area of their child’s development. Brochures or other training materials could be provided to them. With this kind of emphasis on brain development, those kids could be up and ready to go when they enter day care or preschool at 18 months or so.
Q: What about Flexible Focus Funds (allocations for professional development, Extended School Services (ESS), preschool, textbooks, and safe schools)?
A: What we tried to do when I was budget chairman of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education was to maintain funding at the level it had been for the previous biennium. So, we didn’t cut funding, we just maintained it at the same level at which it had been. We just didn’t add additional funds.
Q: What would you like to see happening in career and technical education in regard to partnerships that you also have mentioned as playing a key role in education?
A: This is a place where schools, particularly in multidistrict areas, can collaborate. For example in my county, the Franklin County Career and Technical Center is working with the Frankfort Independent school district and they are allowing our students in the city schools to attend the career and tech school. The Franklin County public school district is allowing their students to attend the aviation program that we have in the city independent district. I would like for us to look at ways students can attend these career and technical programs and receive certification in manufacturing areas, so that when they get out of high school and don’t want to go to college, they can immediately pick up a job and make $40,000-$50,000 right off the bat.
Q: One of the things that school districts run into when establishing innovative career and technical programs is how they can stay within some of the more rigid state education guidelines. Do you see any movement toward giving school districts more flexibility?
A: I think that some districts don’t realize the flexibilities that they already have. When looking through some of the applications for the Schools of Innovation, we realized several districts didn’t understand what they already have the flexibility to do. The climate here in Frankfort, particularly in the Department of Education, is that they are willing to work with districts as long as they comply with the regulations and the law.
Q: What about the level of funding for technology in schools?
A: We are going to need to look at that because technology is evolving, and when you purchase technology it is almost out of date by the time you put it into place. The state department has talked to us about the need to upgrade the hardware and software. They brought those needs to our attention in the second biennium of the last session and we had to put it off at that time. The department has brought the technology funding issue back to us this year. There are so many questions and so many needs in education that the education department is going to have to work with the Governor’s Office to move in the direction that they feel will address current needs. They will have to set the priorities and decide how those priorities are going to be implemented. They need additional funding. There is no question about it.
Q: Textbook purchases were not funded in the last biennial budget. Textbooks are aging. What do you see happening in the next budget in that regard?
A: It is like everything else. We really do need funds for it – particularly in math and science. There are a lot of things you can do online, but there are things you can’t. Schools have to have the necessary programs if students are to work online. Textbook needs should also be considered and purchasing prioritized.
Q: There has been some backlash regarding Common Core curriculum standards, especially in science. Do you expect a revisiting of those standards?
A: The Kentucky Board of Education adopted those standards and the governor has said he is going to see that those are carried out. So, I don’t see us revisiting those issues. I think it is pretty much set. Of course, it is always possible that some member or members of the legislature will try to bring it up. I really believe with the governor making the statement that he is going to see those standards are carried out, it is unlikely there will be any change.
Q: Are there other issues that you think will emerge?
A: I think the key to all issues draws back to one thing and that is funding and the source we will draw upon for that funding. I doubt very seriously that any reform in the sources of funding will be brought up this session because elections are in the fall of (this) year. But we are really going to have to deal with the issue of tax modernization, reforming our system, and looking at the recommendations of the commission that was set up by the governor to study revenue and funding areas. People have been talking about gaming again and advocacy of that. These are issues that should be submitted and debated.