A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

State Senate approves sweeping education reform bill; measure moves to House for consideration

The Kentucky Senate passed a measure Friday that could result in the rewriting of public school lesson plans and tests in favor of a locally-centric form of educating.

After the approval of Senate Bill 1, dubbed the let the teacher teach act, Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, hailed the moment as the day in which Kentucky set a successful course for its public school curriculum.

“Our No. 1 resource is our children,” said Wilson, the primary sponsor of the bill. “They will be the future leaders sitting here one day when we are gone.”

During discussion of SB 1, a bill on public education, Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, commends the sponsor of the bill for listening to many sides as he crafted the bill. (LRC Public Information Photo)

Wilson said the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 paved the way for the passage of SB 1 in Kentucky. The federal act stated that states do not have to follow Common Core, a set of academic standards in mathematics, English language, arts and literacy.

Wilson said SB 1 would take advantage of this development by empowering state education officials, locally-elected school board members and teachers to decide the best teaching methods for their communities. In essence, it could change what students are taught and how.

Wilson said SB 1 would “purge” language from a series of federal education initiatives going back nearly two decades, including the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top, that has left state education law an unmanageable patchwork of education theory du jour.

This doesn’t mean Kentucky is abandoning quality control, Wilson said. The more than 100-page-long SB 1 is an omnibus measure that would utilize Kentucky teachers to create new standards that are rigorous and ensure students are prepared for the industries operating in their communities.

The bill sets up several committees and advisory panels to review the standards.

SB 1 would also change how students are tested. Wilson said local educators would be able to align what is taught with what is tested. He said it would allow teachers to stop wasting valuable learning time ”teaching to the test,” a colloquial term for a teaching style that is heavily focused on preparing students for a standardized test.

Wilson said SB 1 further empowers teachers by replacing school self-evaluations called Program Reviews that bog down educators with onerous paperwork. It would also set up a new way for intervening in low-performing schools by placing more power in the local school district during those interventions.

“It allows educators to do what they feel like that are called to do, and love to do, which is teach our children,” he said. “Teachers invest in our future – and nobody does it better.”

It was the second session in a row that an education reform bill was given the designation as Senate Bill 1, a designation usually reserved for the Senate president’s top legislative priority. While last year’s version passed out of the Senate with a 25-12 vote before stalling in the state House of Representatives, this year’s version passed with a 35-0 vote.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the measure picked up votes this year because of the collaborative approach of Wilson, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. Wilson said he was aware he had talked extensively about education reform to anyone who would listen – and some that probably didn’t want to listen – for the last two years.

Passages of the measure were changed to alleviate last year’s concerns from Kentucky’s arts community that high schoolers would be able to meet arts credit requirements by taking classes such as computer programming. Also gone from the measure is language that would have created “bands” of similar schools that would be used for comparing academic growth.

The changes brought Senate Minority Whip Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort to rise in support of SB 1.

“The reason you don’t see anyone standing to question this bill at this point is because this bill has been explained in detail to each and every one of us separately from this day and we have had our questions answered,” he said. “Because of that, we are in strong support of this bill.”

Sen. Gerald N. Neal, D-Louisville, said Wilson’s bipartisan approach should be lauded.

“This is exactly how this body should function,” Neal said. “(Wilson’s) approach to this was to include individuals in the process. But the most remarkable thing he did was to listen, and he listened well.”

SB 1 now advances to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Charter School legislation introduced in House

The House Education Committee Chair John Carney (District 51), Chair of the House Education Committee introduced HB 520, to bring public charter schools to the Bluegrass State Friday.

The bill would allow public charter schools to open and begin serving students in the 2018-19 academic year.

“As a public school teacher, I believe our existing traditional schools will, by far, continue to educate the vast majority of our students, said Carney. “I also believe that this bill will set Kentucky on a path toward providing more public school options for students and families,” said Rep. Carney. “For more than two decades, public charter schools have been making a difference for students in other states and it’s past time that Kentucky allow these proven, innovative public schools. My children attended traditional public schools that worked well for them. But one size doesn’t fit all and I’d like to see every single student in Kentucky attend a school that best meets their needs.”

HB 520 will allow local school boards to review and approve public charter applications, with an assurance that charter applications will have the right to appeal decisions to the State Board. The bill provides a high level of flexibility and autonomy and still requires that all public charter schools take that same state assessment and follow the same health, life, safety, financial and transparency laws as all other public schools. In addition, enrollment preferences will be given to students residing in the district, students who are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch, and students attending persistently low-achieving schools.

“15 of the last 16 major studies on public charter schools have shown that they are raising the bar on academic achievement, and this bill will help bring that same success to Kentucky” said Joel Adams, of the Kentucky Charter School Project. “Chairman Carney’s legislation is based upon best practices that have produced high-performing public charter schools in many other states. Parents, teachers, and communities can be assured that we will have public charter school options where they are needed, and that we are inviting only the highest-quality public charter schools to serve students in Kentucky.”

There are currently 3.1 million students attending more than 6,700 public charter schools nationwide. Since 2010, 16 academic studies have been published on charter school performance. All but one found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional school peers. One study found mixed results. Charter schools disproportionately top the lists of America’s best high schools in Newsweek, US News and World Report, and the Washington Post. In fact, on these lists more than a quarter of the best high schools are charter schools. 

If HB 520 becomes law, it would make Kentucky the 44th state in the country to allow public charters schools.

From LRC Public Information

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