Susan Meadows sits with Christopher Empson and a small group of students practicing writing and scissor work during her preschool class at Caldwell County Primary School. Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 15, 2011

Susan Meadows sits with Christopher Empson and a small group of students practicing writing and scissor work during her preschool class at Caldwell County Primary School. Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 15, 2011

By Tracy Goff-Herman

The 2012 Regular Session of the General Assembly begins today, and state lawmakers have several big issues to deal with including redistricting, enacting the state’s biennial budget and, if history repeats itself, more than 1,000 pieces of legislation to consider. 

With the continuing national recession, Kentucky’s revenue situation hasn’t improved. 

As such, the General Assembly’s focus will likely be on maintaining current funding levels, plugging holes and, when possible, restoring funding to pre-recession levels.

In anticipation of the upcoming session, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) has finalized its list of budgetary and legislative priorities. The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) focus will be on supporting and obtaining adequate funding for these strategic priorities.

There are four foundational items in KDE’s budget request. They are the programmatic policies that will enable the commonwealth’s education system to prepare students to be college- and career-ready. They include:

Funding for school improvement: This $13.3 million request would provide funding to assist non-Title I, low-performing schools. Schools and districts would use the funds to pay for efforts aimed at promoting student academic growth, reducing dropout rates and improving graduation rates. 

Funding for College and Career Readiness efforts: This $28.1 million request is targeted primarily at three programs: 

  • AdvanceKentucky is an Advanced Placement (AP) initiative that is focused on expanding students’ access to, preparation for and participation in academically rigorous course work, primarily in mathematics, science and English.
  • Early College is an innovative pathway that blends high school and college courses, allowing students to graduate from high school with a diploma and a substantial amount of college credit.
  • Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a middle and high school project that creates dynamic partnerships with schools and industry in order to prepare an increasing and more diverse group of students for success in engineering and engineering technology programs.

Funding for Assessment: State testing programs are required by KRS 158.645 – KRS 158.6459 and by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. KDE is requesting $8.2 million for the biennium, or two-year budget, to enable KDE to develop the assessments required by state and federal law.

Teacher Effectiveness and Evaluation: The Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) is being field-tested in approximately 50 school districts. KDE’s budget request of $6.3 million for the biennium will support protocol and tool development, school district teacher, principal and additional rater trainers, as well as system documentation to inform policy development and evaluation to support implementation strategies.

Other priorities adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education include supporting legislation that would increase compulsory school attendance from age 16 to 18. More than 6,000 students drop out of school in Kentucky each year. If passed, this change would complement multiple initiatives being undertaken by KDE and school districts to keep students in school. 

KDE also is focused this session on legislation that grew out of the Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) Task Force’s final report, including a bill that would provide additional funding flexibility to school districts in organizing schools and instructional programs to meet the needs of students. 

Also tied to the TEK report are several pieces of legislation aimed at improving school districts’ access to digital learning and ensuring students are connected with educational resources. One of these proposals would create a central authorization point at KDE for multiple statewide online learning providers; another would update statutory references to include and expand the use of digital instructional materials.

Additionally, KBE is endorsing updating state laws to allow for an adjustment to the preschool funding formula. While this wouldn’t change the total amount of the appropriation provided by the General Assembly, by removing the five percent negative and positive (growth) adjustments, funding would be stabilized for school districts, allowing them to make decisions based on more current data.

KDE also will be following several other pieces of legislation that have been or are expected to be followed this session and that deal with several education issues, including career and technical education, charter schools, tax holidays for buying school supplies and reconfiguring the tribunal process for teachers. 

Tracy Goff-Herman is the Kentucky Department of Education’s legislative liaison to the Kentucky General Assembly.