Unpredictable, but with “happy ending”
Kentucky School Advocate
By Madelynn Coldiron
KSBA Governmental Relations Director Hope McLaughlin said KSBA’s advocacy team tracked over 200 of the nearly 1,000 bills that were filed during the 2016 session. But the legislation most closely followed did not come to fruition until the very last day when both chambers approved a 2016-18 state budget.
Here is what the spending plan, finally hammered out in the wee hours of April 14 and approved April 15, holds for education for the next two years:
• Increases funding for all the state public pensions, including the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and establishes a “Permanent Fund” for future pension payments. The breakout lists an additional $973 million for KTRS.
• Maintains K-12 funding for the educational support services (Learning and Results Services) at their current level – this includes family resource/youth services centers, Extended School Services, preschool, textbooks, safe schools and other programs.
• Maintains the basic SEEK funding at current levels, amounting to $3,981 per pupil.
• Authorizes pilot programs expanding public preschool eligibility to 200 percent of the poverty level, and for full-day preschool.
• Sets up a new Work Ready program for two-year degree tuition assistance, capped at $25 million.
• For higher education, implements a 4.5 percent cut in the first year, carried through the next; also sets up university performance-based funding criteria.
Caveat: As the Kentucky School Advocate went to press, the governor still had time to make line-item vetoes, so some of the information above may have changed.
High profile, no go
In the run-up to the session and in the early days, much attention focused on a handful of bills that would have made major changes in K-12 education. But from charter schools to academic standards, they eventually lost momentum. “I don’t know that we’ll know if some of the biggest items from this session will resurface in the interim or 2017 until everybody has had time to take a breath and sort of decompress from this session,” McLaughlin said.
The bill promising perhaps the most significant education reforms since 2008 ran into not only some opposition but a timing issue due to the recent adoption by Congress of the Every Student Succeeds Act and questions about its impact on any new state legislation. SB 1 would have revamped the school accountability system and redesigned the review process for the state’s academic standards.
Companion charter school bills were introduced in the House (HB 589) and Senate (SB 253) focused only on pilots in Jefferson and Fayette counties; they differed in the number of charter schools that could be authorized. The House version did not receive a hearing. The Republican-controlled Senate approved its bill, but in amended form that would have allowed local school boards to be the sole authorizers of these charters.
SB 50, which would have required the school calendar to start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 was later amended to simply give school boards the incentive to do so by waiving the 170-day instructional mandate in favor of an hour-based system. It also would have required district calendar committees to include a chamber of commerce, tourism or business representative.
Any structural changes (issues such as eligibility and years of service) to the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System will have to wait until a future legislative session. A task force presented lawmakers with a menu of “informational” options in December 2015, stopping short of making recommendations. But none of those options materialized in the 2016 session. The prospect of at least one audit – by the state auditor – of all of Kentucky’s public retirement systems also had legislators holding back pending further information. However, budget proposals from the House, Senate and governor all invested unprecedented amounts of money toward the pension systems.
McLaughlin said she is disappointed that legislation reforming the teacher tribunal process did not move forward. “I think it will be good to work with legislators in the interim to continue those conversations,” she said. Likewise, she had hoped the bill to exempt school buildings from the prevailing wage would have made more progress, but she noted it remains a top priority of the Senate.
Education-related bills passed, signed into law
Important education issues were discussed during the 2016 legislative session, but McLaughlin said the “weight” of the budget dominated. Despite that, a half-dozen or so education bills made it through:
CPR training, SB 33. Public high schools under this law will have to provide their students with cardiopulmonary resuscitation training as part of the health or physical education that’s required for graduation, or as part of the JROTC course that meets the PE requirement, to be done one time between the ninth and 12th grades. School districts may choose to, but are not required to purchase any equipment for this training. However, the Kentucky Nurses Association will be providing every school district with a CPR training manikin, free of charge.*
Bullying, SB 228. The bill provides a statewide definition of bullying as “any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated.” It requires a school boards’ code of acceptable behavior to prohibit bullying, include procedures for investigating and responding to reports of bullying, and a method of protecting people who report bullying. KSBA model policy will be updated to reflect these changes.
Military service, HB 87. This will enable any high school student participating in basic training to be considered present in school for up to 10 days for that service.
Child abuse hotline/snow days, HB 111. Schools will be required to post the state’s child abuse hotline number. An amendment to this bill allows districts to waive any snow days they can’t make up by meeting the required 1,062 annual instructional hours by June 5.
School council principal selection, HB 184. The bill provides an alternative principal selection process for Jefferson County and guidelines governing it.
Retirement systems, HB 238, was approved on the final day of the session. It sets requirements for actuaries hired by public retirement systems, and requires the Public Pension Oversight Board to perform an actuarial audit of the state retirement systems at least every 10 years and to review each system’s budget requests prior to each biennium. It also sets a series of analytical requirements for the pension systems.
Bonus online content:
Education bills that did not pass*To order a manikin, please email your district name and name of contact person with phone number, email and shipping address to email@example.com. Distribution will begin this summer.