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In Conversation With Kevin Jackson

Kevin Jackson

Kentucky School Advocate
February 2024

In Conversation With features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.

State Rep. Kevin Jackson, R- Bowling Green, was an educator of more than 30 years before he began representing the 20th House District this past year. He talks about how his career in education serves him in his new role and legislation he has already put forth in his brief tenure.

Q. You served on the Warren County school board for nearly five years after you retired as an educator. Why did you want to remain involved in education?

I spent 32 years in education and coaching in three different school districts and had a great experience. I knew the importance of education. When I retired, I had another job, but I missed the excitement of the education world. When I read in the newspaper that there was an opening for a school board member in my district, I thought it could be an opportunity to give back to education in a different way. Serving on the board was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Q. What made being on the board so rewarding?

It helped me see the education process from the other side of the table. I saw the inner workings, how those tough decisions are being made, how the money situation works.

Q. You’ve said there are about a half dozen state representatives in the legislature now who have education backgrounds. Do other state representatives lean on this group, given your experience, when they discuss, propose and pass bills that involve education?

We do have conversations with our fellow colleagues, and sometimes we wish they would ask us more questions, but we’re always there to answer any and all questions. I think most of us are on the education committee, so we have an opportunity to share some of that wisdom and knowledge during committee meetings.

Q. Sounds like you all work as a team.

We see things through the lens of an educator and try to stick together on issues because we have the best interest of our kids in Kentucky in mind. We’ve been on the front lines and had an opportunity to see how things work. We feel like we have a pretty good idea of things that we could do to make things better for education.

Q. You’ve been a legislator for a year. What has surprised you about this new role?

I tell people back home that the people here in Frankfort were much more helpful than I thought they would be. We had 25 new state reps last year, which is 25% of the House. People were doing anything they could to make our first session better and more productive.

Q. Your son Adam replaced you on the school board in Warren County. Did you encourage him to do that?

I was so busy running my campaign for the House that I hadn’t even thought about it. One day, Adam told me he might be interested in applying for my (school board) position. I said, ‘I’m honored that you would be interested, and I think you could bring a lot to the table.’ Adam’s 32 and has two little girls. One is in kindergarten, the other in 2nd grade. I said, ‘You see things different as a parent with small children in school than most school board members do, and you would bring a new perspective to the school board. I would be honored if you would be interested in taking my place.’

Q. During your first legislative session you passed HB 32, which allowed school districts to hire classified personnel without a high school diploma or equivalent, to combat the employee shortage. Have you heard from districts about whether it has made hiring for those positions easier?

In talking to Chris McIntyre, the CFO of Warren County Schools, I learned the district had 100 classified positions open. One reason people could not apply for these jobs was the high school diploma or GED requirement. Warren County has one of the largest migrant populations in the state. A lot of these people are really smart but the education they received in their country doesn’t translate over to our country. With HB 32, we took that requirement out but if you did want to work toward a GED, the school system would pay for it. When I talked to Chris in July, I asked if HB 32 had helped. He said the system had gone from 100 classified openings to 30. I’m sure that wasn’t the magic formula for everything, but it did help bring about some changes. Gary Fields, Bowling Green Independent’s superintendent, said they had hired several from the migrant population after we waived the requirement. So, it seemed to help both those districts, and I assume it has across the state.

Q. This session you have filed HB 108, which would create a system in which the scores of English Language Learners (ELL) would be phased into the state’s accountability and assessment system. Can you explain why this bill is needed?

I think it’s unfair that in communities like Bowling Green and others across the state, which welcome immigrant populations, school districts and the ELL students are being penalized on testing. We take students from all over the world, some who have never been in public education settings, and the first year they’re here we test them. They get a pass on it, but in year two, they and the district are held accountable for their test scores. Yet research says it takes about five years to learn English proficiently. So, we’re trying to push the accountability back a year or so to give them a better chance to be successful. It’s not good for the student or the district when you penalize them for these test scores. We’re putting our heads together with Warren County and Jefferson County and KDE. But we’ve found that some of this goes back to federal regulations, so we have also been in contact with Congressman Brett Guthrie’s office. They are willing to work with us. If we can’t get something done in the legislature this time, at least we’re bringing it to the forefront, even at the national level. Congressman Guthrie is willing to go to bat for us in Washington to try to bring about positive change.

Q. Your bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a Democrat and teacher from Jefferson County Schools, and Rep. Al Gentry, another Democratic representative from Louisville, making it a rare bipartisan bill. Why is working across the aisle important in education?

A lot of issues we deal with are not red or blue issues, but human issues, and there’s a right thing to do no matter what party you belong to. I think this is one of those issues. I’ve been fortunate to get co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. If we don’t get it done this session, we will continue to work on it until we can get the positive outcome that we want.

Q. Your co-sponsors represent some of the state’s largest school districts, but you say this problem is one all schools will experience.

I’ve told people, if you don’t have this problem now, you will within the next five years. In districts like Bowling Green with a high percentage of ELL students­ – it is 18 to 20% in that district – it is a major issue. It costs more to educate these students because it’s more time consuming.

Q. You’ve been on both sides of education. What would you say to your former board member peers about the best way to reach out to legislators when they have concerns or they want to advocate for a bill.

I would just ask, to try to think about walking in the shoes of the person on both ends of the education spectrum. I wish more people in Frankfort would consider what goes on at the local level and that school board members would take into consideration the constraints and the requests that we have in Frankfort.

Q. How do constituents reach out to you?

I get numerous emails every day and I’ve spent most of this morning returning phone calls to constituents who have reached out. Most people up here will try to return a call or email and let you know what their thoughts are on particular issues. We welcome all school board members to reach out.

Q. When you were a school board member did you contact legislators?

I did. Issues would come up and we would say, ‘Hey, let’s reach out to our representatives and see if there’s something they could do to help us.’

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