I will be hitting the airwaves today from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. (eastern) —Bluegrass Mondays on the Mandy Connell Show on Louisville’s 84WHAS
Fifty-nine Kentucky lawmakers have signed an Amicus Brief in support of the 27 states suing the federal government over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
Kentucky House Minority Leader Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was one of only a very few members of his party who did not join the lawsuit, which specifically contests the Individual Mandate provisions of the federal health-care policy.
State Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, who coordinated the effort in the commonwealth, released a statement announcing the move while criticizing Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway for refusing to “join the growing chorus of states bringing suit before the Supreme Court to contest the Constitutionality of the sweeping and unprecedented legislation known as ‘Obamacare.'”
The Cato Institute sponsored this brief for legislators across the nation from states that have not joined the lawsuit known as Department of Health and Human Services, et al., vs. States of Florida, et al. The State Policy Network, of which the Bluegrass Institute is a member, helped facilitate the project.
So far, 332 legislators (Republicans, Democrats and Independents) nationwide have signed on. Here’s some more from the statement:
“The Senators and Representatives who joined this Amicus Brief are glad to stand with Republican, Democratic, and Independent legislators from states all across the Union against this encroachment upon individual freedoms and states’ sovereignty. While these Kentucky legislators remain committed to promoting the public welfare and the health of all of our citizens, we will not countenance the usurpation of Constitutional authority or the flaunting of Constitutional limits on Government power.
“America remains free because our Founders recognized the proper limits of Government authority. They established clear boundaries by specifically enumerating the powers entrusted to Government. The United States Constitution is the document every legislator—state and federal—swears an oath to uphold.”
We’ll have more on this as developments occur.
“Unfortunately, President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline and freeze out over 20,000 jobs comes as no surprise to me. This administration’s anti-development, anti-coal, and anti-job policies are out of touch with working families, our serious economic challenges, and our need for reliable, low-cost energy resources. Throughout my region, we’ve seen this contempt firsthand with the relentless assault by EPA and others on Kentucky coal and coal mining jobs.” –Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Somerset
This week the US Department of Education announced that Kentucky will receive “full flexibility,” as Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) spokesperson Lisa Gross characterized it, from many requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).
Under NCLB, Kentucky’s schools were required to bring all students to a 100 percent proficiency rate in reading and mathematics by 2014. Success along the way was measured against “Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO),” which included separate evaluations of scores for racial subgroups, students in poverty and even students with learning disabilities. Each student subgroup had to meet the annual AMO target. If even one subgroup failed in a school, that school would face sanctions.
That 100 percent proficiency requirement and the separate AMO targets angered many educators. School personnel claimed this was clearly an impossible goal to reach in such a short time frame, and that it was probably impossible for students with learning disabilities. Many schools were identified as “Improvement Schools,” which meant they had failed to make an AMO and thus did not make Adequate Yearly Progress overall.
The NCLB program also essentially created confusion. There were two separate accountability programs in the state. Schools could do well on one while falling into the sanctions category on the other. It happened frequently.
One part of NCLB did have merit, however. With its focus on racial minorities, NCLB finally forced Kentucky to really pay attention to the achievement gaps for the state’s minority students. Neither the original KIRIS assessments created by the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 nor the replacement CATS system, which came on board in 1999, provided effective accountability for minority students. Instead, because all scores for all students first were averaged together to develop a single overall average score to be compared to a single standard, it was possible for schools to perform very poorly with minority students and yet escape penalties under both KIRIS and CATS.
It was also possible for schools to perform very poorly in either math or reading, or both, but to offset that with much better performance in other evaluated areas. As a result, it was possible for a school to have a very low proficiency rate in, say, math, but still score well enough to avoid sanctions all the way to the end of the CATS accountability period (which was also set for 2014).
Another problem with Kentucky’s assessments is neither KIRIS nor CATS seemed to measure what is now considered to be of primary importance for students. The goal that wasn’t adequately measured: getting students ready for college and careers.
As time went on, especially for CATS, it became abundantly clear that Kentucky’s statewide school assessment program was not reliably measuring student performance that mattered. CATS scores continued to rise while remedial course requirements in Kentucky’s public postsecondary education system remained very high. By 2009, the Kentucky Legislature had enough and directed, through Senate Bill 1, that the KDE completely revamp our state assessment to make it relevant to students and the public with a true focus on college and career readiness.
Flash forward to the present, and the creation of Senate Bill 1 nicely set the stage for the Kentucky Department of Education to craft a good NCLB waiver request. The new assessment program coming on line over the next few years will have a definitely college and careers focus, and it will eventually include many important elements such as evaluation of education gaps, ACT college entrance test scores, measures of student progress over time and evaluation of programs that are not easy to test such as each school’s programs for Arts and Humanities.
There will also be increased accountability for high school graduation rates.
There may be at least one potential problem with the new system. The new assessment and accountability system will still aggregate scores from many sub-areas into one final score to be compared to a single, annual performance standard. Without separate AMO tests for critical areas such as minority gaps, this can lead to the same very serious problem we had with KIRIS and CATS: schools balancing very poor performance in key areas or with certain student subgroups with better performance in others to ultimately escape badly needed attention.
I am told that the federal government is well aware of this problem, and the final, approved waiver request supposedly adds in some AMO ‘tripwire’ areas for gaps and graduation rates to overcome the weakness in KIRIS and CATS. I have not had time to go over the entire waiver approval package, so I don’t know if this is actually included, or not.
One thing is certain. While the improvement in the education of our kids is still an on-going question, there is no doubt that many people in Kentucky both inside and outside the school system – including us at the Bluegrass Institute – are a lot smarter about school assessment than we were a decade ago. If the new program does have weaknesses, we will be a lot more likely to spot those problems, a lot quicker, than ever before. And, we will be watching out for those problems.
In the end, we certainly hope that our new assessment and accountability program will turn out to be exactly what almost everyone really wants – a high quality evaluation tool that will highlight exemplary schools to learn from and those schools where a lot more learning still needs to start.
Kentucky lawmakers have had a strange love affair with expanding gambling. Every year, they gather and seem to get a little bit closer to handing a brand new revenue source to the various race tracks around the commonwealth.
The chief argument against expanded gambling in Kentucky seems to be that it will have some corrosive impact on the culture. Whether or not that’s true, it’s important to understand that freedom can be rather messy. People sometimes fail to take advantage of the upside of basic liberties. People sometimes make bad choices. Expanded gambling offers people a chance to blow their whole paychecks on the turn of a wheel, a toss of the dice or the dealing of cards. And some poor souls choose that path. These facts should not be taken as an argument against freedom. Instead they’re an argument for people to make better choices on behalf of their families.
The side that tends to favor expanded gambling makes the point that Kentucky’s government needs the money. Budgets are tight, after all, and revenues from gambling will be the state budget elixir. There are so many things the government does that may have to be sacrificed if Kentucky doesn’t approve a tax on those who choose to gamble said paychecks for the chance at a better tomorrow.
Unfortunately, both sides of this debate are horribly misguided. Yes, you can lose your family’s source of sustenance on a roll of the dice. So what? It’s your job as an adult to make the right choices with your hard-earned income. Bright lights and the promise of big wins doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to do right by yourself and those who depend on you.
And yes, expanding gambling could provide additional revenues to the government. So what? The problem with Kentucky’s government isn’t that revenues are lacking, it’s that Kentucky’s government is involved in too many activities that ought to be left to the voluntary sector. Should the government own a dozen or more state parks, golf courses or industrial parks? Should the government really be in the business of subsidizing entertainment venues in Lexington, Louisville, Corbin or Pikeville? Should the government be picking winners and losers with special “tax incentives” that favor some businesses over others?
Before you pick a side in the fight over expanded gambling in Kentucky, ask yourself this: Have Kentucky’s lawmakers been good stewards of your tax dollars thus far? Are there programs that lawmakers support that might ought to be cut in lieu of seizing a larger share of taxpayers’ earnings? Will a new tax really help lawmakers make ends meet?
I hope you’ll agree with me that giving lawmakers control over a bigger chunk of Kentucky’s economy is a bad bet.
Jim Waters, president the Bluegrass Institute, will guest host for Leland Conway on “The Pulse” on Lexington’s NewsRadio 630 WLAP-AM Wednesday, February 15, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. (EDT).
Call in to join the conversation at (859) 280-2287
Click here to listen live.