Regina Huff is a recently retired public school teacher and state legislator. Since 2012, she has represented the 82nd District, which includes Whitley County and part of Laurel County, in the Kentucky House. She talks about her goals as chair of the House Education Committee and the challenges that face Kentucky teachers and schools.
Q: You're a retired teacher. How long were you an educator, and where did you teach?
A. I taught in the Whitley County school system. I retired in November after 25 years. I taught special education my entire career, and the last 22 years were in seventh and eighth grade special education.
Q. With your teaching background, you bring relevant experience as chair of the House Education Committee. Tell me about your goals for the session.
A. My main objective is to create an environment where we can all coexist with proper decorum. I will work to ensure that everyone has a voice. I also want us to feel that everyone is important.
Q. How will you get those points across?
A. I will address it at every meeting. I certainly welcome everyone to our meetings. But I hope we will be civil. We’re teachers, and I think we should reflect that. My meetings will be reflective of my classroom. We will be respectful of one another and we’ll listen.
Q. What are some school issues you will address?
A. School safety, especially the mental health aspect. We must make sure we are meeting the needs of children who are struggling, and identify those children earlier. I also want to ensure our family resource and youth service centers are well taken care of.
Q. You have filed a bill that will allow districts to take donations for family resource centers?
A. Yes. I want the public, if they are able to contribute, to have that as an option because the effects of these centers are immeasurable. They assist grandparents raising their grandchildren. They gather dresses so girls who might not have had the opportunity can go to homecoming or prom. They help children who have visual, hearing or dental problems. They bring so much to our children regarding their health and welfare. They meet the needs of all children across the continuum of services.
Q. KSBA and other groups are advocating for reasonable reforms to the tribunal process. What are your thoughts?
A. As far as how the bill is written now, I don’t have a problem with it. We are at a point where some educators have a problem with everything we do. And so I think that’s where it is up to us to inform them. We’re not trying to control the system or control who gets fired or not. We’re trying to improve it so that the process is more effective and timely. Ultimately, superintendents have to own every aspect of the school system.
Q. How would the changes make it more effective?
A. I think having an attorney on the three-person appeal panel will make it more conducive to getting to a final decision in a timely manner and could be an asset on both sides of the issue, foreseeing some issues of concern and possibly avoiding delays on rulings. A lawyer as a hearing officer will also help keep the process on the issue.
Q. You were previously chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee for Education. The current budget reduced funding for some programs and increased funding for others. What do you see as the greatest need in terms of state funding to districts?
A. What would probably be first for me is more funding for all-day kindergarten. And I think we should offer all-day preschool. It also would be great if we could pick up more of the transportation costs of these districts, particularly the rural ones. In terms of funding cuts, we did drop some programs. I tried to ensure that they were programs that were not producing the results we needed. I made sure that everything we kept had data to support it and reflected success. Those that were less effective were the ones that were looked at as possible reductions from the budget.
Q. What is the biggest barrier to learning for Kentucky school children?
A. I think it is how children come to school. Outside variables are a huge barrier for the classroom teacher, as well as for the welfare of the student. We don’t know what’s happening in their home, and some are coming to school hungry, some without any sleep. Bullying and the social media can also become barriers to education.
Q. Is there anything that the state legislature can do to address those issues?
A. Offer support to parents and students and ensure the value of a good night’s sleep to the students. I was part of a bullying task force. I think we have got to look at bullying in terms of a no-tolerance policy because students can’t learn if they are in situations like that, or if they’re hungry or if they have issues at home that are affecting their mental well being.
Last session, I sponsored the suicide prevention training bill. Teachers need these tools in their toolbox. Suicide is a taboo subject but if you have the training and skills, you are more confident bringing the issue forth and saying things like ‘I think your child may be suicidal.’ Or ‘I’ve noticed this, and statistics show that this could be...’
Q. So do you think that issues like this are better addressed at the local school board level? Is there anything a school board can do to deal with these issues?
A. It’s all about local control. I think that there are things that school boards could implement, but their plate is full. So, I think we should give them a feeder program, something that is researched and that we know can be effective and then provide the sources and how to implement it.
Q. Some people say that public schools are failing. What do you say to that?
A. Overall, our public school systems are really effective. Especially in the rural areas, the population I live in, I think it’s quite amazing what our public schools are providing. I don’t think that our public schools are failing. In fact, data that we just received shows that Kentucky wasn’t as bad as we had been perceived in the past. I’m not a proponent for charter schools in rural Kentucky. I think that our public schools are where we need to focus and where our emphasis should be. I feel like we need to be more proactive and more encouraging and build up the public school systems more than we have been as of late. I’m proud to have been a public school teacher. The four of my five grandchildren who are school age are in the public school system in our district, and I feel they will get a first-class education.
Q. What does a successful legislative session look like from your perspective?
A. To have successfully passed the school safety bill. And I think more than anything, as far as being the education chair, it’s to have better communication with teachers and for them have a better understanding of the legislation that is being brought forth. There’s so much new information. And as far as the Republican House, we don’t have a lot of effective messaging. Once a message is out there and it’s inaccurate, then you can’t unring the bell. For example, when we were trying to pass the pension bill, I heard everything under the sun regarding that bill. And I would say 75 percent of it was inaccurate. I would hope that we could all come together and ensure that we have a thorough understanding of exactly what this legislation does and be positive and proactive in our commitment to ensuring that people have a good understanding and a knowledge base. I think that’s where we need to improve. That’s what I want to do as the education chair, ensure that everyone knows exactly what this piece of legislation does and there aren’t any misconceptions.
Q. Do you have any ideas about how you’re going to do that, how you will accomplish it?
A. One way is to inform local superintendents so they can share the information. I think having a networking system so that the information is coming from a source that has a good working knowledge of what the legislation is, rather than through all the groups that it’s filtering through and like anything else, it may get misconstrued.