Voice Recognition

KSBA News Article

President's Perspective

Karen Byrd

School board voices needed during upcoming legislative session

Kentucky School Advocate
December 2023

By Karen Byrd
KSBA President

Just a few years ago, many school boards across the state conducted business in largely empty board rooms, auditoriums and gymnasiums. Public participation at school board meetings has risen significantly, mirroring a national trend. This surge in engagement reflects a growing awareness of the critical role school boards play, and it underscores the importance of community involvement in the democratic process. Just think, until the height of the pandemic, some districts lacked the technology or know-how to consistently livestream their meetings. Today, it’s a standard practice that raises the level of public discourse and achieves more equitable access.

All this signals an increased sense of civic responsibility and a desire for transparency and accountability in shaping the future of our schools. That signal is resonating with many of our state policymakers in Frankfort. It was a centerpiece of this year’s gubernatorial campaigns and a frequent topic on the nightly news. The fact that everyone is talking about our public education system should be a good thing, right?

I am incredibly proud of the fact that, at this year’s of 12 Regional Meetings, we welcomed nearly 30 guests from the legislature and the Kentucky Board of Education. These state leaders took the time to show up, listen and actively take part in roundtable discussions. Likewise, the chairman of the House Education Committee spoke to KSBA’s board of directors at our September meeting. Several districts, mine included, welcomed lawmakers to school board meetings and educational cooperatives statewide held legislative forums to discuss issues facing our schools.  

Education is once again at the forefront of many legislators’ minds heading into the upcoming budget session of the Kentucky General Assembly. It also demonstrates, that while there may not always be agreement, there is at least an eagerness by many lawmakers to engage with those making decisions at the local level.

The importance of reaching out to your elected officials leading up to a legislative session cannot be overstated. Doing so helps to ensure your district is heard and your insights as local leaders are considered when legislators hunker down in Frankfort this January to craft legislation that will impact schools statewide.

Connecting with your legislator is easier than you think. I challenge you to try one or more of the following strategies BEFORE the legislative session ramps up to warm up the lines of communication:

 Attend a forum: Some lawmakers hold regular town hall-style meetings in their districts or online, giving constituents opportunities to discuss the issues.

 Send an email or letter: Written correspondence is an effective way to communicate your thoughts on specific issues, including evidence and personal anecdotes.

 Make phone calls: The Kentucky Legislative Research Commission’s free Message Line (1-800-372-7181) allows you to leave messages for your elected officials anytime, not just when they’re in session.  

 Schedule an in-person meeting: Have you ever tried it? Visiting the office of your legislator(s) with a group of fellow education advocates is a powerful statement (and a good photo op).

School board members know from experience that elected officials are entrusted with representing the interests of their communities, and they can only fulfill that responsibility effectively when they are aware of what matters most to their constituents. Would you ever take action as a board member without having all the information? Without soliciting input from stakeholders? Without first trying to understand all the implications of your actions? How can we expect anything less from our legislators? They may be many things, but mind readers they are not.

Let’s turn the page on 2023 with the mindset that, together, we can make 2024 a memorable year for advancing public education. As local advocates, school board members can make an indelible impact on the future of public education. KSBA stands ready to support boards in their advocacy efforts and will be steadfast in representing school boards statewide. We represent the largest elected voice in our Commonwealth. Let’s use that collective voice to ensure a bright future for all students. KSBA is ready. Are you?

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