In Conversation With…features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a staff member of the Kentucky School Advocate.
This month’s conversation is with Kentucky Sen. Ken Winters, below left, and Rep. Carl Rollins, chairmen of the Education Committees in their respective houses, who gave a preview of the upcoming 2012 General Assembly.
Q. What do you think the top three education issues are going to be in the upcoming legislative session?
Rollins: I have a bill to look at teacher evaluation systems. We introduced it late in the last session. Hopefully this year there will be a lot of discussion and we can revamp the way we do teacher evaluations. This year the bill does not require that all districts (evaluate) the same. They can receive a waiver from the department or the Kentucky Board of Education.
That’s something that we need to do. The department has already taken steps to have a model teacher and principal evaluation system. But I think we need to put it in statute that it needs to be multiple measures. That’s what the bill does.
Winters: Another issue that will be forthcoming is a bill on career and technical education. The governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky committee recommendation that a task force be established to look at career and technical education is under way. We had planned for a rollout of that before the Joint Interim Committee in November, but there seems to be more discussion necessary on that before it happens. We’re going to go for an interim joint meeting in December for that and other reasons.
Hopefully we’ll have something. My goal is for career and technical education to be highly visible, orchestrated so that it’s not so fragmented as it is now. That’s an important issue for us that I hope will see some priority during the session.
On another topic, this is not a new bill, but the implementation of Senate Bill 1 is going to remain on our front burner for a lot of reasons. One of them being we’re going to have to continue to push to get the science and social studies core content completed, but the other is monitoring to make sure that precisely what we specified be done in Senate Bill 1 is accomplished and not used as a vehicle to do some other things that are not consistent with the direction of the bill.
Rollins: We may need to revisit Senate Bill 1 to see if we did in fact miss some things. I know the department has talked about program reviews for k-3 and I don’t know if we have anything in Senate Bill 1 that really assesses k-3, also foreign languages. I think those may have been some areas of oversight that we did not include and we may want to.
Q. What are some other issues you will be dealing with?
Winters: There was a bill that I ran several years ago on advanced placement, International Baccalaureate and appropriate recognition for the teacher and the students’ performance. We did not fund that back then, but it certainly was a vehicle through which we were able to get the Exxon Mobil grant. Advance Kentucky – as we are calling it now – is making a major impact on Kentucky’s participation, especially in advanced placement and an enormous success in the number of students who are taking and passing with acceptable scores to receive college credit.
Rollins: Another issue we always discuss is charter schools, and while I’m not in favor of letting just anybody start a charter school, I do have a bill to create Districts of Innovation. That bill would allow the Kentucky school board to identify Districts of Innovation – up to five a year – which would be exempted from certain regulations and statutes so they can try innovative things within their district or in one school, to try to bring about increases in student achievement.
Winters: There probably will be a bill out of the Senate that deals with voluntary charter schools. Never have we encouraged the forced implementation of charter schools or even the building of a new facility to do it. Our general thinking, and it probably is not greatly different from Rep. Rollin’s comments, is it needs to be a voluntary thing and use current facilities. It needs to have some flexibility in the way they waive some of the requirements.
But it would be right there in the district and monitored and controlled by the district.
The neighborhood schools bill, with the court rulings on it (regarding the Jefferson County Public Schools’ assignment plan), I don’t know what’s going to happen with it. But I have an initiative that I’m working on now – whether we get it ready to go or not – that’s about public school choice.
Let me explain what that is and why I feel so positive about that. I’m going to use an example of a young man or woman, single with a couple of children living in Frankfort, but they work in Mt. Sterling. If we had made provisions where those parents could transport their children to attend school in Mt. Sterling where they are working, then if something happened, the parent could get to them quickly (instead of having to drive back to their home district).
I think that is a growing concern, particularly among single-parent families, to not be so far away from their kids during school days.
Rollins: Along the lines of the neighborhood schools bill, I truly believe the school assignment plan is the responsibility of the local school board and what they come up with, we should support.
But Jefferson County seems to be where that is the largest issue and the courts have weighed in and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens now. The courts weighed in a long time ago (on this issue) and that’s what brought about the change in student assignment to start with, which has contributed a great deal to the diversity of the schools in Jefferson County. But there are other problems, the transportation costs are so high. And while I don’t think the state should interfere with school assignment, I think there has to be a better way to do it.
Q. Will there be some bills making an appearance this session that we’ve seen before?
Winters: We’ll be running the early graduation bill again to let students who elect to do so – which would be a very small number of students – have the option to concentrate their studies over a three-year period rather than four years and be able to go ahead and move on to college. Many of them are already working toward this, through dual credit, dual enrollment, through middle college work, but this would be a student who is highly motivated and their family agreeing that they want to accelerate and move through.
A couple of factors that would tend to limit the number of young people who would want to do that would be those who don’t want to leave a year of band experience behind, who don’t want to give up on football or basketball. It would be for a select group of young people who are highly motivated and want to move forward.
A criticism of it before was that, “You’re just going to promote being unprepared for college.” But I can assure, the group that participates in that will never have to be remediated when they get to college.
Rollins: I know we have already prefiled a bill to allow advertising on school buses, and it will probably be considered in one chamber, anyway. (chuckles)
Winters: And I would echo that. (both laugh)
Q. Any other issues that you all expect to reappear?
Winters: One that neither of us have mentioned yet is Sen. Westwood’s bill on career pathways. We were at a meeting just a little while ago about some things that might help retention and excitement on the part of the students, but there is nothing that will have the impact on a young person in school who is seemingly in trouble than to have a dedicated career counselor in that school who talks to them, puts their arm around them and embraces them and starts generating ideas. They go back together and look at how they did on EXPLORE and in many cases, great ideas about career directions can come forth from that exam, not just mediation identification.
But that will be a bill that comes back this time and certainly I don’t think there’s anything in the world to help prevent dropouts like having a caring, dedicated person to take them and nurture them and send them along a pathway to a career.
Rollins: And keep that arm around them until they are 18.
Winters: An arbitrary decision to make these students stay in school until they are 18 years old just doesn’t have the kind of weight to me as a student feeling that, ‘People care about me and are going to try to nurture me and move me forward.’
Rollins: It needs to be a lot of things, not just increasing the age to 18. There need to be other things done to improve career and technical education, to improve our alternative schools, to make sure that we don’t just try to keep kids in until they are 18 in the traditional setting when it’s already failed them, but try to offer other alternatives to keep or get their interest and make them successful. But we should not be a state where we let a 16-year-old make a decision like that or let parents make that decision for a 16-year-old.
Q. What can education expect when it comes to the budget?
Rollins: It’s going to be a tough year. What a lot of people don’t understand is that there is no more federal stimulus money and we’re still not going to have any excess funds even though our revenues have increased over the last year or so. It’s still not going to be a fun budget session. But hopefully we’ll at least hold harmless the SEEK formula and do whatever we can to aid education at all levels. But just because we’ve done better in the last few years doesn’t mean we’re going to have a lot of money to spend because we haven’t had that yet since I’ve been here.
Winters: If you had asked that question two or three months ago, there could have been more enthusiasm in our response than today because we’re dramatically declining in revenue right now. And across the country, we’re declining. Our revenue up until July, we were moving forward at a rate that made me feel better about the future, but now, that is not the case. So I agree with Rep. Rollins that we’re going to have a very, very tough budget, and I would concur with the priorities he established.
We talk about economic development issues in Kentucky. The single most important element of the state’s economic future is an educated workforce. We must as an entity work as hard as we can to do everything we can to that end. And the SEEK formula is absolutely the highest of all priorities, but there are a lot of extended school services that we just must give priority to, also: school safety and textbooks, FRYSCs and other groups that serve the student in trouble, we must give attention to them.