– New bill retreats from KERA
One of the more intelligent parts of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) was the requirement that all people working in the state’s public schools would have to have at least a GED or high school diploma. After all, if we are going to tell kids that education is important, it makes no sense to provide a daily example that raises questions in young minds about whether that is really true.
So, along comes House Bill 142 in Tuesday’s meeting of the House Education Committee. The legislators were told that this bill will allow school districts to apply for a waiver from the long-standing rule in KERA for “certified employee” hires to have at least a GED. That includes such people as cafeteria workers and janitors, and it also most specifically includes school bus drivers. In fact, bus drivers were the only employees specifically mentioned in the meeting.
The argument for the bill is that some rural districts are having problems hiring bus drivers.
However, not one specific example of a district having such problems was offered.
Not one superintendent or district school bus supervisor was brought in to discuss the problem.
There was no mention about how many districts might have this problem, how long they have had the problem, or how long the problem might continue into the future.
The bill’s sponsor seemed happy that bus drivers would have to pass the Commercial Drivers License tests to get the job. That doesn’t seem like much of a recommendation for someone who will have to deal with kids every day and maybe have to occasionally deal with a crisis situation involving those young charges. A CDL shows you can mechanically handle the rig and know the rules of the road. I don’t think it requires any demonstration of skill with handling passengers, especially little ones.
It gets worse.
Representative Derek Graham quite properly questioned a provision in the bill that the waiver could only be used for employees born in 1959 or earlier – in other words, people over the age of 50.
Isn’t that age discrimination, asked Graham, and isn’t that illegal?
The incredible response was that since no legislators with law degrees were present, the committee needed to pass the bill and let the courts decide this issue later!
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a fine example of a committee not doing due diligence before passing a bill on to the entire house!
Aside from turning the “Education Pays” slogan on its ear, this bill is a beautiful case in point of legislators not doing their jobs well. The entire floor of the House should not be tied up doing work that should go on in a committee. Sadly, it now looks like all our House legislators will have to waste valuable floor time debating technical questions that should have been worked out in committee.
It was most telling that the House Education Committee chair admitted this bill needed more discussion. But, it doesn’t seem right that the committee, knowing this, sent the bill onto the floor, anyway.
Finally, why does this bill use a cutoff age of 50 as a waiver limitation? If there truly are driver shortages in some districts, why wouldn’t someone aged 40, or 30, or maybe even in his or her 20’s be just as suitable? Is someone’s political axe getting ground here?
What is the possible justification for this arbitrary and indefensible requirement that seems highly likely to do nothing more than land the taxpayers in court, ultimately paying a large sum to those younger individuals who are to be unfairly treated by this very poorly conceived legislation?
Here are a few thoughts:
1) KERA has enough problems without undermining its good parts to benefit adults at the expense of kids. People working with kids in our schools should have at least a GED. Those who don’t provide very negative role models.
2) Legislators need to do their committee homework – in committee. There was no reason to vote this bill out of committee today. The questions raised were sufficient to table the bill for further discussion AFTER legal opinion on the age discrimination issue could be obtained. If there is need for a legal opinion on a bill, get it in committee! It’s a committee’s job to do as much as possible on a bill so it won’t excessively tie up the full House.
3) If there really is a bus driver shortage, let’s accurately describe where that is happening and find out why. Is the person running the bus program in the district hard to get along with? Are drivers treated fairly? If relief really is necessary, let’s make it temporary, and clearly stipulate that the drivers hired will need to get their GED’s in a specified amount of time or be subject to immediate replacement if a fully qualified applicant with a GED or more applies. Maybe we can sweeten the deal by helping the drivers get their GEDs. But, let’s not plan to place a contradiction in front of kids about the need for education any longer than absolutely necessary.