2017 legislative preview

2017 legislative preview

2017 Legislative Preview

Chartering a course
Charter school authorization at forefront as 2017 legislative session opens
 
Kentucky School Advocate
January 2017
 
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer
 
The November general election, with its Republican juggernaut, produced a GOP supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature – a situation that has moved one public education issue out of perennial status and into the realm of near-certainty in the 2017 General Assembly.

The state’s education commissioner says he believes charter schools are in Kentucky’s immediate future; some lawmakers are predicting a charter school bill will sail through under GOP control; the governor has always backed the concept; and the state school board has added its voice, though tempered.

In fact, said KSBA Governmental Relations Director Eric Kennedy, though other education issues remain to be raised, the discussion has focused on charter schools to the extent “that it is sucking up all the air out of the room.

“We here are a little bit concerned that charters will take up all the attention, even though there are other very important education issues that we have been advocating for years, that we think have a good chance of passing and we are going to really advocate for passing this year, such as tribunal reforms, principal and superintendent selection, and the appropriate role and powers of school-based decision making councils relative to school boards.”

The fact that this is an odd-year, short session puts a damper on prospects for action on complex issues like tax reform, which the governor and others have indicated will wait for a special session in 2017. In addition, new House Speaker Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown), has said he wants to “start off slow,” tackling just three to five bills in a House that will be welcoming 23 members new to the legislative process.

Overall, public education advocates and interest groups will be getting used to “the new reality of Frankfort,” Kennedy said.

The much-improved prospect for charter schools is part of that reality.
“Our goal is to influence all legislation as much as possible for student success,” Kennedy said. “That means being at the table and being a partner in crafting this legislation. On behalf of school boards, we will be against legislation – charters or any other legislation – that could possibly reduce funding, resources, opportunities, or services for all students and all public schools.”

KSBA President Allen Kennedy of Hancock County (no relation to Eric Kennedy) said the association intends “to be open-minded and willing to collaborate for a realistic solution,” in the charter school discussion, but notes it needs to include “local control” – that is, local boards as the primary authorizers of charter schools.

“Who knows better than the local district what the needs are?” he said. “I believe the local folks will step up to the plate, recognizing the areas they are falling short.”

However, Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green) recently told superintendents he will back legislative language that does not limit charter authorization to local school boards.

The KSBA president said school board members he has talked with around the state are concerned not just with local control, but with the need for funding charters separately from traditional public schools, for maintaining basic state school funding (SEEK) for regular schools, and requiring charters to serve all students, including those with special needs. He also is leery of for-profit education management companies. “During my travels, I have talked to hundreds of school board members from other states who have charters and I have yet to hear of a for-profit entity that focused on the kids; most were interested in the money and many fraudulently reported successes,” he said.

Other possible K-12 education legislation
Public pension reform, which could encompass the Teachers’ Retirement System and the County Employees Retirement System that covers classified workers, hinges on what a new audit review will reveal on its expected release date prior to the opening of the 2017 session. Lawmakers have said they are waiting for that report before making any decisions on changes to the systems, but the 30 days for business does not allow a lot of time for discussion, debate and drafting legislation. The issue could find itself accompanying tax reform in that special session, Eric Kennedy said.

Some form of Senate Bill 1, the omnibus education bill that did not gain traction in 2016, “certainly will pass” in 2017, Kennedy said, due to the need to amend state law because of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But, like the last time around, SB 1 may contain the outline or elements of a new state accountability system. Most recently, Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner proposed that Kentucky grade its schools using an A, B, C, D or F rating at the conclusion of development of the state’s new accountability system.

The state education department has been crafting a new system with the help of myriad committees. Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt has said he expects to have a proposal out for public comment early next year.

“We’re all going to be watching SB 1,” Kennedy said. “We know that it’s going to be the Senate’s education bill – there may be things beyond just ESSA. We’re going to be watching when that gets filed and watching amendments that get filed to it.”
 
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