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Year in Review

2019 in Review

Top education stories of 2019

Kentucky School Advocate
December 2019

1. Andy Beshear elected governor  
Democrat Andy Beshear beat incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin with the help of educators across the state. During the campaign, Beshear touted his support for public education and pledged “that the war on public education” would end under a Beshear administration. 

Fueled by Bevin’s criticisms of teachers and his attempts to change the pension system, educators across the state campaigned for Beshear and his running mate, former teacher and school administrator Jacqueline Coleman. 

Beshear also promised teachers a $2,000 raise, to only sign a budget that puts education first and to replace the Bevin-appointed Kentucky Board of Education. 

“Educators, their families, their friends and those in our communities supported Governor-elect Beshear because he champions public education and will work to raise it up,” Eddie Campbell, Kentucky Education Association president, said after the election.

2. The School Safety and Resiliency Act  
In the wake of the fatal shooting at Marshall County High School in January 2018, the General Assembly in 2019 passed Senate Bill 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act.

The law is designed to harden buildings by requiring new safety features and soften schools by providing more counselors to improve student well-being.

The parents of the two students who died in the Marshall County shooting testified in support of the bill before it passed the legislature with bipartisan support (pictured). The bill requires building safety upgrades, including electronically locking exterior doors and having classroom doors closed and locked during instruction. It also includes a goal of a school resource officer in every school and one counselor for every 250 students as personnel and funding allows. 

3. Teacher protests  
For much of the 2019 legislative session, the Capitol was awash in a sea of red shirts. Thousands of teachers left their classrooms in February and March to protest scholarship tax credits which would take away much needed funding for public schools and speak out against a bill that would have changed the make up of the Teachers Retirement System board. During the protests, 10 districts were forced to close, some up to six times, when they could not find enough substitutes to cover all the absences. 

4. Boards get to appoint  
Locally elected school boards regained the right to fill their own vacancies under a law passed by the 2019 legislature. Previously, board vacancies were filled by the commissioner of education. Boards now have 60 days from the time they accept a vacancy to fill the spot. Boards must advertise the vacancy for two weeks and if they miss the deadline to fill the seat, the commissioner can appoint a new member. As of late November, 12 boards had used the new law to fill a vacant seat. 

5. Taking names  
Remember those teacher protests? In August, the state labor cabinet announced that 1,074 teachers broke the law by calling in sick to attend the protests. Officials said the teachers could face $1,000 fines but that they would not levy the penalties. The labor cabinet used district records turned over by Commissioner Wayne Lewis, visitor logs at the Capitol and superintendents’ emails to identify the protesting teachers. 

6. #RoseAt30   
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the landmark Rose v. Council for Better Education decision in which the Kentucky Supreme County declared the state’s education system unconstitutional. The court, led by Chief Justice Robert Stephens told the legislature to create a public education system that could meet the state’s constitutional mandate of an “efficient system of common schools” and adequately fund that system. 

“Each child, every child, in this Commonwealth must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education,” he wrote. “The children who live in the poor districts and the children who live in the rich districts must be given the same opportunity and access to an adequate education. This obligation cannot be shifted to local counties and local school districts.” 

7. And then there were … 172  
On June 30, Silver Grove Independent consolidated with Campbell County Schools leaving the state with 172 school districts. The merger was the result of the 2018 election in which the community elected four new board members who had campaigned on the issue. At their first meeting, the new members voted to begin talks with Campbell County and by February both boards had agreed to merge. The 108-year-old district, which had fewer than 200 students, officially closed on July 1.

8. First charter application  
Charter schools have been legal in the state since 2017, but it took more than two years before the first application was submitted. A group of parents in northern Kentucky submitted an application in November to the Newport Independent school board. River Cities Academy, a K-8 school, would pull students from six districts in Kenton and Campbell counties. Though charter schools are allowed, the General Assembly has not created a way to fund them. The group’s application states it would need state funding to open. The Newport board has until January to approve or deny the application. 

9. A star (system) is born   
On Oct. 1, the Kentucky Department of Education released its first accountability data using a new 5-star rating system. The results showed that half of Kentucky’s elementary, middle and high schools earned 3 stars in the new system. In all, 37 elementary, 12 middle and seven high schools earned the top 5-star rating. Eighty-nine schools statewide earned the lowest 1-star rating. The Kentucky Board of Education is proposing schools hold a public meeting about the rating or post the rating in a prominent location. 

10. United show of force  
In March, as a bill to allow scholarship tax credits gained traction in the legislature, superintendents held eight simultaneous press conferences across the state to oppose the legislation that would divert money available for Kentucky public schools by reducing state revenue by millions. House Bill 205 would have allowed businesses and individuals to receive a tax credit for donations to private school scholarship-granting organizations. The superintendents pointed out that the measure has the same effect as vouchers. The bill ultimately failed, but supporters are expected to file another bill in the 2020 legislative session.

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