2017 General Assembly

2017 General Assembly

2017 General Assembly

The battle for local decision-making
 
Kentucky School Advocate
May 2017
 
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer
In any other General Assembly, the passage of a bill opening the door to charter schools in Kentucky would have made the session a game-changer for public education. Combine that with a major education reform law that touches everything from curriculum review to assessment, and the 2017 session becomes a blockbuster, for better or worse.
 
Jefferson County school board Chairman and KSBA Board of Directors member Chris Brady, left, and Eric Kennedy, KSBA’s governmental relations director, spoke at the Senate Education Committee hearing on charter schools. 

“There’s been a duality in this session, from a public education standpoint, when comparing these two major outcomes,” said Eric Kennedy, KSBA’s governmental relations director. “SB 1 is very supportive of local decision-making by not only the locally elected school board members but also the superintendent.”

In contrast, he said, the charter school legislation, while it allows the local board to be a primary authorizer, “contains a pretty onerous appeals process and erodes local control in that the appointed state board of education – which about a year from now will be entirely appointed by this current sitting governor – could overturn almost any decision of a local board relating to a charter school.”

KSBA President David Webster said he doesn’t believe the charter schools will improve public education in Kentucky. “I really think we will fall back down the ladder that we have struggled so hard to get up,” said Webster, who chairs the Simpson County school board. “My hope is that someone will open their eyes to what has happened and they will change their mind.”

Overall, public education posted more victories in terms of individual bills than setbacks, Kennedy noted – with a big caveat: “One of the biggest things in the defeat column is charter schools. That’s a pretty big headline-making defeat.”

The charge to charter schools
Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt has said he is forming a special unit to assist charter applicants and school districts, and is developing a Frequently Asked Questions document. The charter school bill, HB 520, takes effect in June, but Pruitt said the regulatory process will take most of 2017, so charter school applications will not begin until early 2018. “The bill left a lot of unanswered questions” that the regulations will fill in, Kennedy noted.

“KSBA will have a seat at the table during this (regulatory) process,” he said. “We expect to dissect (the regulations) carefully. We will be submitting written comments. We will attend any public hearing for those regs and offer comments to make sure the interest of the local boards is aired as much as it possibly can be.”

The law allows all Kentucky school boards and the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to authorize charter schools. The corresponding law governing charter school financing, HB 471, applies only to the 2017-18 fiscal year, so the funding issue will be taken up again during the 2018 legislative session, when lawmakers will adopt a biennial budget. This interim law calls for redirecting existing funding streams and provides no new state funding for charters.
SB 1 at a glance
Like Kennedy, Webster praised the collaboration among lawmakers and education stakeholders that went into producing the final version of this bill, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson. “I was very happy to see how attentive Senator Wilson was to the recommendations made by KSBA to SB 1, and him being willing to change the bill to implement those changes,” he said.

This latest iteration of education reform sets up a new accountability system that includes an annual summative snapshot of school/district performance that does not consist of a single numerical score, but is “based on a combination of academic and school quality indicators and measures, with greater weight assigned to the academic measures.” It ends norm-referenced tests and program reviews as part of accountability.

SB 1 also revises the current teacher evaluation system, calling for districts to devise their own system based on a statewide framework. Student growth will not be included in measuring teacher effectiveness, and teacher evaluations will not be included in the district’s accountability.

The new law also sets up an academic standards review process that includes a multicommittee review and a final review by a panel of appointees of the governor, Senate president and speaker of the House. This final review will recommend changes to the state school board. The law also outlines a new process for identifying and helping low-performing schools.

Kennedy calls SB 1 “hugely transformative,” and laments that its potential and the collegiality that went into hammering out its final form were “completely overlooked” in the midst of the charter school debate.

Other significant bills passed
In the realm of academics, public high school students will now have to pass a civics test to get a regular diploma, thanks to passage of SB 159. The questions are to be drawn from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services test for people seeking citizenship. And with passage of HB 128, the state board of education will be developing an elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament, the New Testament, or a combination, related to understanding the Bible’s impact on contemporary society and culture.

After several legislative sessions, the so-called “calendar bill,” SB 50, passed under the new Republican majority. It provides an incentive for districts that start the school year no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 by permitting them to base their year on the 1,062 minimum-hour requirement without also having to meet the 170 instructional day mandate. While that part is optional, Kennedy cautioned, the law, which is effective in 2018-19, outlines specific new requirements for all districts involving a calendar committee, its makeup and meeting notifications.

Among the other more high-profile measures approved, a pair of new laws will ease nepotism rules that have governed school board members. HB 277 allows aunts, uncles, son-in-laws or daughter-in-laws of school board members to be employed by that school board. HB 269 changes hiring policy to allow board member relatives who are currently not eligible for school district employment to serve as substitutes for certified or classified school personnel. An omnibus campaign finance reform bill, SB 75, also was approved, which increases certain campaign contribution limits and will apply to school board races.

School district budgets posted a win with passage of HB 3 repealing the prevailing wage requirements, and with SB 104, which deals with excessive pension spikes. On the other hand, not winning passage was a measure that would have given districts relief from the expense of publishing full financial statements in their local newspaper, allowing them the option of online publication.
 
The return of the high-profile failures 
KSBA Governmental Relations Director Eric Kennedy noted that many bills during the 2017 session that would have impacted public education did not pass, but will make a return appearance. “All of these are long-term issues, and all filed by Republicans, so they will all be coming back next year,” he said.

Most prominent among these bills is HB 151, the so-called “neighborhood schools” bill, which would have given students the right to enroll for attendance in the school nearest to their home, by travel distance, with some exceptions made for schools with academic or skill prerequisites. Though most of the discussion centered on Jefferson County, the bill applied statewide and would have affected all districts.

Other bills that did not pass but are likely to return include:

SB 20, an omnibus juvenile justice reform bill. Among other things, this would have required the development and reporting of plans to address disproportionate minority contact with juvenile justice and school discipline systems, and limited the permissible use of physical restraint by school personnel.

SB 217, a bill aimed at reforming the teacher tribunal process. Kennedy said he hopes that now that the legislature has dealt with charter schools, there will be more focus on reforms in both the tribunal and teacher tenure laws.

HB 58, the “Tim Tebow” bill, which would have allowed homeschooled students to participate in public school extracurricular athletics.

HB 307, addressing screening of students for dyslexia, and training of teachers in dyslexia and response to intervention.

HB 454, which would have required school districts to establish an “essential skills” (sometimes termed soft skills) curriculum.

The list of likely returnees also includes a couple of health-related measures, one that would have required all districts to be smoke-free; and another that would have mandated all schools to obtain an automated external defibrillator. 
 
View text-based website