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 Shannon Stiglitz, KSBA’s director of Governmental Relations, who discusses the results of the Kentucky General Assembly’s short session.
Because of deadlines, this publication went to print before the final two days of the session – considered the “veto days” – were held, which means some actions of the General Assembly may not be included in this article. A complete wrap up of the session will be sent to school board members and superintendents.
Q. How has the session gone?
A. It has been a quick, 30-day session with a full agenda. It was probably so full due to the number of task forces this interim, which allowed the General Assembly to come to Frankfort prepared to work on issues such as pension reform, special taxing districts and others. There’s 30 days in this short session, and you can do budgetary items but it takes a super majority in each chamber.
There were big policy issues. You can argue whether they took on too much, but clearly pension reform is still hanging out there for resolution. Of course that issue is important to our members since it includes reform for classified employees (retirement system).
As far as educational issues go, the General Assembly did see fit to give boards the authority and the opportunity to do some things. Local control was a core principle for the General Assembly, that they trust local boards to set policies on increasing the compulsory attendance age, whether or not to keep EpiPens in the schools and how you manage that process. With the EpiPens, it’s all voluntary and if you have the resources.
I don’t think anyone can deny the premier piece of education legislation that passed was the compulsory attendance age bill. Senate Bill 97 was amended and agreed to by the House to give boards, starting with the 2015-16 school year, the ability to increase the mandatory attendance age to 18 through local board policy. Once 55 percent of local districts increase the mandatory attendance age to 18, then the rest of the districts that have not elected to do so will be required to come on board within the next four years.
The idea behind that is you will really have some time to establish and make sure you have the resources in place to implement such a program. That legislation has been proposed every year for at least five years, so clearly it is a big win for Gov. Steve Beshear and all those supporters of reducing dropouts.
Q. What were some other big education issues that passed?
A. Clearly, the ability for districts to have a financing option to pay the KSBIT assessment is a big opportunity for districts. Boards now have the authority to do it. That also expands local control because it is allowing boards to borrow for the purpose of paying off a debt. It allows districts a financing option to pay off the assessment. Senate Bill 202 was amended in the House to add language that enables a district that chooses to, the ability to borrow for the purpose of a debt. This means they can finance with any entity they choose to finance the debt for the purpose of paying back the assessment. They can do that for a period of two up to 20 years if they choose. Or if they choose, they can write a check, one lump sum.
Also, Senate Bill 61, which incentivizes students and districts to participate in early graduation. Students wanting to graduate early would receive a scholarship of half the SEEK money the district would have received for the fourth year; the other half goes back to the local school district. Neither the Kentucky Board of Education nor local school districts can require any additional graduation requirements. Students must pass the end of course exams, meet the ACT benchmarks and complete basic coursework.
Q. This was the first session following David Williams’ departure from the Senate. What has it been like this time around, with new leadership in the Senate?
A. It was definitely different. I think people spent the time trying to feel out the new climate in the General Assembly. There has definitely been change. I think everyone, including the members themselves, were trying to feel how this was all going to work, where previously everyone – especially in the Senate – knew how things were going to work. It worked a certain way and now with the change in leadership, with President Stivers, and with a lot of new members in both the House and the Senate, there was a cultural shift and a lot of people had to figure out how to maneuver those waters.
Even in the House, given the number of seats Republicans picked up and some of the tight leadership races, things were different. It was a different climate and environment and you had to relearn those relationships.
Q. What do those school safety bills propose to do?
A. Both Senate Bill 8 and House Bill 354 relied heavily on emergency management planning and reviewing those plans, developing relationships with law enforcement. It also required that you use CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design), which is designing schools with safety and crime prevention issues in mind, so you are keeping those issues in the forefront. It talked about how schools can be prepared, what districts can do to strengthen the preparedness of schools. It requires review of more of these drills and emergency management plans.
Q. What are some issues from this session that didn’t pass that are likely to appear again in the future?
A. We were unsuccessful again in getting the tribunal legislation – reforming the due process for teachers – passed this session. It is clear that our members and superintendents and others will want to continue to pursue that legislation. It deals with how you remove an ineffective teacher from their position and making it a more efficient process. And it really goes back to the premise that the most important influence in a student’s academic career is the classroom teacher, and we have to have an effective process to make sure we have the most effective teachers in the classroom. And this really does go hand in hand with House Bill 180, the teacher effectiveness legislation that did pass, because we are going to have a more effective process for how we measure how teachers are doing, including a measure of students’ growth.
I think those two things go hand in hand. Now that the teacher effectiveness legislation passed, the department of education will continue to move forward and develop the system fully. But we have a responsibility to taxpayers, we think, if we know information, if we have good data and we know what is good teaching and what isn’t working in the classroom, then we need to take action on that.
Q. Can you talk a little more about the significance of the teacher effectiveness bill?
A. It’s monumental and a big win for Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. Getting teachers, administrators and legislators to agree is always hard. The legislation creates a statewide teacher and principal evaluation system. The system will be made of multiple measures, including student growth as a significant factor. Local school districts can seek an alternative evaluation model, but it must meet the criteria set out in the legislation.
While the details of the system are still being developed, such as how to calculate student growth and what weight it should be given, the legislation moves a statewide evaluation system forward.
KSBA has supported a statewide evaluation system that includes student growth for at least four years.
Q. What about charter schools?
A. I think the push for charter schools is not going away in Kentucky, particularly when you consider that the advocates for charter schools on a national level have some funding behind them and Kentucky is one of fewer than 10 states that does not have charter schools. So I think you’re going to continue to see a push, particularly behind the idea of improving low-performing schools and having charter schools be a mechanism for that.
Q. The neighborhood schools bill (which would allow students to attend the school closest to their home)?
A. It passed the Senate this year but did not pass the House. I think you will likely always see legislation about this, particularly given the fact that it’s really a hot-button issue for the city of Louisville, which means it’s a hot-button issue for the legislators of Louisville, so they’re going to continue to monitor that progress and move forward on that issue.
Q. Other legislation?
A. There were several other bills that passed that are significant. One says that employees of local districts who have kids but don’t reside within the district they work, the SEEK money would follow those students to the district that parent works in, if they choose to put their child in that school system.
Another bill that passed requires districts to keep any digital or audio recordings for a period of up to one month. What precipitated that was apparently in one senator’s district there was an incident at a sporting event or play where a child was injured or died and some materials were deleted. The bill requires districts to keep those recordings.
Senate Bill 18 and House Bill 220 both passed and they create a new funding formula for preschool, removing the negative and positive adjustment previously used for a calculation using the prior years’ student counts as of Dec. 1 and March 1. The previously used funding formula was unpredictable and made it hard for local school districts to budget.
Q. With the two veto days left in this legislative session, is there a possibility that some big things could still happen?
A. Pension reform is still an issue. Surprisingly, nothing on school safety passed this time. So while there were two bills on improving school safety in light of the Newtown shootings, there was no legislation passed. An agreement could not be reached to push things through, but there is still time for that.
We have three conference committees hanging out there that could still do lots of things. They can pass legislation on those final days, what they lose is the ability to override a veto. But, if there is an agreement with governor, pension reform for example, the military voting bill, the hemp bill, if they reach an agreement and the governor is okay with it, then they will probably feel confident in passing something. And of course, the governor can’t line-item veto policy-based or statutory-based things, only budget bills.