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KSBA statement on KBE's 12.4.19 discussion and action on charter authorizer training

The following is a response to discussion and action on charter authorizer training during the 12/4/19 meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education.

Kerri Schelling, Executive Director
Kentucky School Boards Association

Do you know what your local school board does? If not, you are certainly not alone. The roles and responsibilities of Kentucky’s 172 locally-elected public school boards are often misunderstood and, as a result, underappreciated. Broadly speaking, your local school board is charged with hiring and evaluating the superintendent, monitoring district performance, developing improvement plans, setting the budget and allocating funds. And yes, they are also charged with imposing local taxes which, due to constrained state funding, make up an increasing portion of districts’ budgets.  

Kentucky’s 862 elected public school board members come from countless vocations. Nearly half of board members are female, outpacing many state and federal elected bodies. Some board members are in the midst of their first term, while some have faithfully served their districts for nearly four decades. Each board member has a unique story and unique motivation for stepping into a difficult role that is often thankless and regularly extends into evenings and weekends. The unifying thread is that each and every one of them answered the call to serve. 

Kentucky is fairly unique in that state law requires school board members to complete hours of training on an annual basis. That is not the case in all states. Each member has a minimum number of hours based on board tenure and the state requires some of these hours to be earned in specific topics. This professional training equips board members to effectively govern a district. What does that mean for the average Kentuckian? It means that the trustees of your local school district, which is quite possibly the lifeblood of your community’s economy, are continually growing their capacity to lead your public schools. 

Early in my 20 plus years with the Kentucky School Boards Association, one thing became abundantly clear: Locally elected school board members take their responsibilities and their training very seriously. Why? Because the futures of nearly 650,000 students depend on it.

Last year, 99 percent of local board members met their state mandated training hours. Even more impressive, 87 percent of members exceeded that minimum, going above and beyond what the state requires. That equated to more than 12,185 training hours in the form of conference sessions, in-district trainings, self-studies and online training.

In 2017, when charter school legislation passed, school board members were additionally empowered to serve as charter school authorizers. Later, as part of regulations adopted by the appointed state board of education, members were required to earn a dozen training hours each year relating to charter school issues.

KSBA and the Kentucky Department of Education have worked together to offer courses that satisfy both the core statutory school board training requirements and the regulatory charter authorizer training. We greatly appreciate KDE staff working with us to ensure appropriate courses are dual credit. This, however, is not a silver bullet solution, because not all core board functions relate to a board’s role as charter authorizer. The charter training requirement remains overly burdensome, both in quantity and scope. 

As the association representing our school boards, we hear from our members about the challenges that the current charter training requirements pose. Most problematic are the limitations they put on our members’ ability to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to fulfill the everyday responsibilities of every Kentucky school board, districts both large and small. Board members are, instead, obliged to make training selections based largely on meeting the charter authorizer requirements.

School board members in Kentucky are well on track to completing 10,344 mandated charter authorizer training hours by the end of the year. That’s 10,344 hours of training completed during a period when only one charter school application has been submitted statewide. The state has yet to create a funding mechanism for charter schools, and support for them appears to have waned both nationally and here at home. State board members themselves acknowledged during the Dec. 4 meeting that charter schools have a slim chance of receiving funding during the upcoming session. This further underscores the need for board members to keep the focus on pressing issues they do face.  

At best, current charter authorizer training requirements are overly burdensome. At worst, they are severely hindering the ability for Kentucky’s elected public school boards to pursue relevant training – without expending additional time and resources - that could enhance districts’ ability to prepare every Kentucky student to succeed. Whether through amendments to the regulation, or by legislative action, this must change if we are to strike a more reasonable balance in the interest of successful districts.  

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