With the 2019 session of the Kentucky Legislature opening soon, reporters around the state are commenting on likely items of consideration, and several Bluegrass Institute education-interest areas are on those lists.
Within the past few days, the Bowling Green Daily News issued “State board of education will push for more power for administrators” and the digitally based, non-profit news agency Insider Louisville published its “#KYGA19: Eight education items to watch.” Both news agencies list potential legislative items that will be no surprise to our readers.
School Based Decision Making (SBDM)
As the title of the Bowling Green article implies, elements of Kentucky’s school governance system, currently built around the concept of School Based Decision Making (SBDM), are likely to get a hard look following decades of lackluster operation (see here for an example of how Kentucky currently stacks up against other states for Grade 4 reading. Note that the analysis in the referenced blog was even the subject of a favorable Tweet by the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the NAEP).
By the way, Bluegrass Institute presiodent Jim Waters, has already addressed the Interim Joint Committee on Education about the SBDM issue twice in the past two years (see here and here), pointing to issues further explained in our “School Based Decision-Making Policy, A Closer Look” report, which was released in January 2018.
On tap for possible changes in 2019:
- The current division of power between the SBDM councils in each school and the local school superintendents and the locally elected school boards,
- Adding more parent members, perhaps even an at large community member, to the SBDMs.
Currently, the SBDMs hold a lot of power over things like curriculum and final spending decisions that cannot be challenged by either the locally elected boards or their hired technical education expert, the school superintendent. Furthermore, that power actually rests solely in the hands of the teachers in each school, not parents or local taxpayers.
As our report and comments from Mr. Waters others like Kentucky Senator John Schickel make clear, the current policy has effectively prevented accountability while too many schools continue operating with bad staff cultures that don’t create improvements for students. Too often, local boards and their superintendent see both a serious need and a pathway for change, but the SBDM system completely blocks any action as teachers maintain the status quo.
We also often hear the fiction that parents have a say in their schools, but the facts are that under current law, the majority membership on every SBDM council in Kentucky MUST be made up of teachers. Since a majority vote rules in SBDMs, parents never have real control over anything.
Charter school funding
The Bluegrass Institute has long pushed for more school choice options for parents in Kentucky where a law allowing the creation of charter schools was passed in 2017. However, funding so far has not been permanently approved. Without a stable source of continuing funding, no charter schools have been implemented to date.
Now, both news sources note there is an emphasis from many organizations on getting stable, long-term charter school funding into statute. Even though this is a short session year for the legislature and a supermajority vote is required to pass such a funding bill in 2019, the fact that Republicans hold such a majority in both houses and tend to favor charter schools means this topic is far from dead in 2019.
Scholarship tax credits
Scholarship tax credits offer another opportunity for school choice. These allow individuals to make donations to nonprofit organizations that then offer scholarships to individual students. The donation allows the donor to get a tax credit. Normally, such financial issues would not be likely in a short session, but this isn’t an ordinary year with Republicans in solid control of both houses and the governor’s office, too.
Pension reform has been an important Bluegrass Institute concern for a long time. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, Kentucky’s pension woes continue, and that impacts funding for all other areas of state operations, education most definitely included.
It seems likely that this hot potato, which has major implications for the quality of life for everyone in the Bluegrass State, isn’t going to go away in 2019, either. Again, the unusually strong Republican presence in Frankfort means some sort of pension action cannot be ruled out even in a short session year.
All in all, 2019 could shape up to be a very interesting legislative year, so stay tuned.