FRANKFORT – Each legislative session may be different, but nearly all share a common trait: They spend a considerable amount of time focused on education.
This year’s meeting of the General Assembly is certainly no different, with nearly a fifth of all bills filed so far falling into this category. Many more will almost certainly be added when my fellow legislators and I return to the Capitol on Feb. 5th.
Two bills expected to draw significant support this year are House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1, which are identical school-safety measures. It’s rare if not unprecedented for each chamber to designate the same bill as its top priority, but that just further underscores this issue’s importance.
This legislation is largely built on the work of a bipartisan group of legislators and stakeholders who met for much of last year. Legislative leaders brought them together following the tragic Marshall County High School shooting that claimed the lives of two students and injured more than a dozen others last January 23rd.
In short, the legislation’s goal is to increase the number of school resource officers, mental-health professionals and school-safety coordinators within our school districts and to improve school-safety training and assessment across the state.
These bills are just starting their legislative journey, but two others are already halfway to the governor’s desk after clearing the Senate in just four days. Unfortunately, there are serious concerns with both of these proposals.
Senate Bill 3 seeks to weaken our school-based decision making councils (SBDM) by giving superintendents the councils’ authority to hire principals.
This undermines local control and represents a fix where no solution is needed. These councils have worked exceptionally well over the years and should not see their influence diminished. If anything, we should allow them to grow by adding a seat for classified staff.
Should Senate Bill 8 becomes law, meanwhile, teachers who are fired would see a change in the tribunal system that handles their appeals. Many worry this would undermine due process and make firings less objective.
Another major education bill expected to be filed this legislative session would create a funding source for charter schools, which were authorized in 2017 but are in limbo until state financing is established.
At a time when the state can only afford about a dime extra per day for each student – and not even a single dime more for new textbooks or teacher training – we cannot afford to remove any money from our public schools. I believe we need to end this charter-school experiment even before it gets a chance to begin.
If those last few bills take public education in the wrong direction, two others I support would put our children on a much better path. House Bills 112 and 113 would have Kentucky provide all-day kindergarten and preschool for every four- and five-year-old child.
Kentucky already covers half-day costs for kindergarten, but most school districts pay the other half-day themselves at a cost that approaches $170 million. As for preschool, Kentucky also covers half days for young children who meet income or disability requirements. Less than half of school districts extend that to full-day, however.
Budgetary matters are generally not considered during odd-year legislative sessions, but I think we need to make an exception this year for our youngest children. With many eligible preschool children staying at home, and with half of all kindergarten-aged children not fully ready when school starts, we must re-dedicate ourselves to early childhood development and not wait another 12 months. This investment will more than pay for itself in the years ahead and give our youngest generation a stronger academic foundation.
Outside of the legislative process, but still important to our children, Kentucky got a dose of good news earlier this month when state officials announced the opening of nearly 30 family resource youth services centers. That brings their total number to more than 850.
FRYSCs are an integral front-line player in our schools, because they help students with non-classroom needs like clothing, food, tutoring and health services. There is no telling how many children have succeeded in the classroom because of these centers’ help, and those running and supporting them have truly earned our appreciation.
As I mentioned, the General Assembly will return on Tuesday, Feb. 5th, to complete the remaining 26 working days of this year’s legislative session.
I’ve heard from many of you, but would love to hear from many more, because your input is critical to the legislative process.
You can always email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line – which is open during normal business hours – is 1-800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.
The General Assembly’s website has a lot of information, too. It can be found online at www.lrc.ky.gov.