By Tracy Goff-Herman
With the start of the New Year, the beginning of the 2013 Regular Session of the General Assembly is at hand. This is not a budget session, but rather a short, 30-day session that traditionally focuses on policy issues that do not impact the budget.
Still, two fiscal issues are looming that likely will have significant long-term financial implications, state employee pension funds and tax reform.
The Legislature and Governor established task forces to look at both issues during the interim. Several lawmakers believe that addressing the shortfall in the public employee pension fund will dominate the 2013 session. Final reports from both groups are forthcoming, but some of the possible solutions vetted during meetings of both groups would address the issues of the underfunded pension fund and the lackluster rate of growth in the economy. Among the options discussed: raising taxes; legalizing gambling; restructuring current taxes; and closing loopholes created by tax expenditures.
Several other task forces were established during the 2012 Regular Session to look at the juvenile code, middle school athletics and student access to technology. They also are expected to release their findings and recommendations this session.
This session, there is a change in leadership in the Senate. This is the first time in twelve years that the Senate will not be led by former state Sen. President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who resigned his senate seat in November 2012, to take a judgeship in the 40th Circuit Court. State Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, will serve as president and Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, will serve as majority floor leader. State Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, is the new chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Hundreds of bills will be filed in the short session, but a few education bills have been prefiled and give a peek at some of the topics legislators are interested in pursuing, including state Rep. Rita Smart’s BR 226, which addresses anti-bullying; state Rep. Carl Rollins’ BR 165, which deals with placement of healthy food selections in school cafeterias; and state Rep. Brad Montell’s BR 284, which is focused on early high-school graduation.
The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) has four main legislative priorities this session: updating statutory language to reflect changes to the teacher effectiveness system; adjusting the funding formula for preschool; supporting the statutory changes to align the executive order placing all career and technical education under the Department of Education; and raising the age for compulsory school attendance. Here is a look at each of those priorities:
Professional Growth and Effectiveness
Under direction of KBE’s Strategic Plan, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has undertaken a two-year study and established a task force to update the current statewide personnel evaluation system. Providing teachers, administrators and districts the tools needed to support and improve performance, KDE plans to implement the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) during the 2014-15 school year. PGES focuses on several areas including: Planning and Preparation; Classroom Environment; Instruction; Professional Responsibilities; and Student Growth. Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, intends to file the legislation supporting this issue at the start of the session.
Preschool Funding Formula
Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, has prefiled BR 220 which addresses changes to the preschool funding formula. The current formula is based on the Dec. 1 count of the previous year. Additional funds from a supplemental 3s count (three-year-olds with disabilities) are included in each district’s allocation. Districts whose enrollments decreased more than five percent from the last two Dec. 1 counts receive a negative funding adjustment and districts whose enrollment increased by more than five percent receive a growth adjustment. The updated language removes the five percent negative and positive (growth) adjustments. The effect is to stabilize funding for districts so they can plan decisions on more current data. This update to the formula doesn’t change the total amount of the appropriation provided by the General Assembly.
Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Through Executive Order 2012-737, Gov. Steve Beshear united the state’s two career and technical education systems under KDE. The goal in merging the state-administered and the locally-operated systems is to create a more efficient delivery of programs that are more accessible, academically rigorous and better aligned with the requirements of postsecondary institutions and employers. A bill to align statutes to the executive order is pending for the session.
Compulsory School Attendance
It is expected that a bill that calls for raising compulsory school attendance from age 16 to 18 will be filled again this session. This statutory change would be supported by many initiatives being undertaken by KDE and local school districts through dropout prevention grants and other means. An estimated 6,000 Kentucky students drop out of grades 9-12 each year.
Tracy Goff-Herman is the Kentucky Department of Education’s legislative liaison to the Kentucky General Assembly.