By Tracy Goff Herman
The annual pilgrimage to the Capitol for the 2015 Regular Session of the General Assembly began in January and started back up last week. This is a so-called “short session,” which meets for only 30 days during odd-numbered years.
Members convened on Jan. 6 for four days to elect leadership, adopt rules, and confirm committee chairs and appoint committee members. The General Assembly then took a break until Feb. 3 before considering legislation in earnest. Revenue measures are generally not considered during short sessions because it takes a 3/5 majority vote to approve additional appropriations, and that means 23 senators and 60 representatives must approve any changes to the budget.
During the break between the organizational week and the resumption of the session last week, a couple of big issues have percolated to the top of the discussions: charter schools and how to address the unfunded liability in the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System.
Much like gambling, whether or not the legislature should authorize charter schools has become a perennial issue in Kentucky. Kentucky is one of eight states without charters. On Friday, a bill that would create a pilot program to allow up to five public charter schools in Jefferson and Fayette counties passed the Senate. SB 8, filed by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, would require the schools to be staffed by certified teachers but could be run by private entities.
The bill will now move the House, which has its own version of a charter school bill.
Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, filed HB 174 which would allow charter schools. He has filed this legislation in the past, and very little has changed in this year’s version.
Since his hiring as Kentucky Education Commissioner in 2009, Terry Holliday has consistently said he is supportive of parent choice and parent engagement and that:
- He supports charter schools as an option for PLA/Priority schools as long as local school boards are the chartering authority.
- PLA interventions in KRS currently contain an outside management option that is similar to charters.
- He is supportive of research that is emerging showing that charters are performing at higher levels in several large urban districts across the country.
The Annual Required Contribution (ARC) is the amount an employer must contribute annually to a defined benefit pension fund and is based on an actuarial formula. The ARC funds current and future retirement benefits and liabilities and is the amount needed to pay the benefits of current and future retirees. This is what is currently underfunded.
New accounting rules set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) require underfunded pension plans to report this unfunded liability using a lower assumed rate of return. While the liability itself hasn’t changed, the accounting rule change reflects a decrease in Kentucky’s funding percentage of the ARC from 51.9 percent to 42.4 percent. This calculation change puts the unfunded liability at about $22 billion rather than the previous $14 billion.
To address the unfunded liability issue, the legislature is considering HB 4 (sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo), which provides for financing and refinancing of pension obligation bonds (POBs). The bill authorizes the Kentucky Asset/Liability Commission to issue funding notes in an amount not to exceed $3.3 billion in fiscal year 2015-16. The bill also calls the state to pay the additional amount needed to fund KTRS’ pension fund on an actuarially sound basis beginning on July 1, 2015, and continuing for each year thereafter.
The bill opens up the budget and as this is the non-budget session, it takes a 3/5 majority of each chamber to pass.
The Kentucky Board of Education has not taken a position on the legislation. However, at its December meeting, the board passed a resolution encouraging the KTRS to work with Gov. Steve Beshear and the General Assembly to develop solutions to fully finance the teacher pension fund.
Other filed education legislation
In addition to charter school and KTRS legislation, state lawmakers have filed a number of other elementary and secondary education bills aimed at everything from school funding and academic standards to student privacy. Here is a look at some of those bills:
SB 13 – Sen. John Schickel, R-Union
The legislation seeks to put into statute that no mandate may be placed on public schools without the General Assembly providing adequate funding. No school district would be compelled to comply with any enactment of the General Assembly that does not provide adequate funding, according to this proposed legislation.
SB 16 – Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg
Givens’ bill seeks to allow computer programming language courses to be accepted as meeting foreign language requirements in a public college. The bill defines “computer programming language” and updates statutory language to require that computer programming language courses be accepted as meeting foreign language requirements for admission to public postsecondary institutions. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) sets minimum admissions standards for state-supported postsecondary institutions in Kentucky
SB 19 – Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington
Special Education Students
This legislation aims to change the definition of “exceptional children and youth” to mean persons enrolled in school between age 3 and inclusive through the final semester of the school year in which the student turns 22 years old.
SB 39– Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green
Safe Weather Zones
This bill would require public schools to consult with local and state safety officials, the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency when identifying the best available severe weather safe zones.
SB 71 – Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London
Student Expression of Religious or Political Viewpoints in Public Schools and Postsecondary Institutions
The legislation seeks to permit students to voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints in school assignments, such as papers or speeches, free from discrimination. The bill requires local boards of education to ensure that the selection of student speakers is made in a viewpoint neutral manner and that a student’s prepared remarks are not reviewed, altered or censured before delivery. It also permits religious and political organizations equal access to public forums on the same basis as non-religious and non-political organizations. It also prohibits the discrimination of religious or political student organizations. The bill provides similar requirements for public postsecondary education institution governing boards.
SB 76 – Sen. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown
Physical Privacy of Students
This bill seeks to ensure student privacy exists in school restrooms, locker rooms and showers and requires students born male to use only those facilities designated to be used by males and students born female only use those facilities designated to be used by females.
The bill includes a provision that would allow a student to pursue a private cause of action against the school if he or she encounters a student in a restroom that is the opposite of that student’s biological sex. Claims may be filed in the Circuit Court in whose jurisdiction the student resides or where the school is located. All claims must be initiated within four years of the violation. A student who is aggrieved under this subsection and who prevails in a court of jurisdiction:
- may recover $2,500 from the offending school for each instance in which he or she encountered a person of the opposite sex while accessing a school restroom, locker room, or shower room designated for use by the biological sex of the aggrieved student.
- may recover monetary damages from the offending school for all psychological, emotional and physical harm suffered.
- must be entitled to recover from the offending school reasonable attorney fees and costs associated with the claim.
HB 18 – Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville
The legislation would require the Council on Postsecondary Education to implement a dual credit course policy and require acceptance of articulated credit courses at all public colleges and universities.
HB 21 – Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington
Interscholastic Extracurricular Activities
This bill seeks to authorize participation in a public school interscholastic extracurricular activity by a private school student when the private school does not offer the interscholastic extracurricular activity.
HB 25 – Rep. Fitz Steele, D-Hazard
Use Tax Holidays
This legislation would establishes a three-day sales and use tax holiday the first weekend in August each year to exempt clothing, school supplies, school art supplies, computers and school computer supplies.
HB 30 – Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg
School Notification of Persons Authorized to Contact or Remove a Child
This bill would require the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), if the cabinet is granted custody of a dependent, neglected or abused child, to notify the school in which the child is enrolled of persons authorized to contact the child or remove the child from school grounds.
HB 33 – Rep. Thomas Kerr, R-Taylor Mill
This bill would prohibit the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education from implementing the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for English/language arts and mathematics, and the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for science.
HB 34 – Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville
Districts of Innovation
This bill seeks to allow a waiver or modification of the statewide assessment system for schools participating in a District of Innovation plan. It also allows a District of Innovation to use student assessments other than those required by the state board under specific conditions.
HB 52 – Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville
This bill seeks to require the Kentucky Board of Education to identify a student as career-ready if he or she obtains a sufficient score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and signs enlistment papers for any branch of service.
HB 64 – Rep. Ron Crimm, R-Louisville
Foster Care Review Boards
This legislation would allow a local foster care review boards to have access to the educational records of children committed to the custody of the Commonwealth by requiring the Kentucky Department of Education to provide the educational records free of charge to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
HB 67 – Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington
Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES)
This bill seeks to define the minimum number of cumulative credit hours needed to be considered “on track to graduate” at the end of each award period for KEES scholarship renewal requirements.
HB 75 – Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson
Teacher Leaves of Absence
This legislation seeks to clarify that a board of education must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and any other applicable federal law in placing a teacher or superintendent on leave due to a physical or mental disability.
HB 79 – Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah
Voluntary Student Expression of Religious Viewpoints in Public Schools
This legislation would permit students to voluntarily express religious viewpoints in school assignments free from discrimination and organize prayer groups, religious clubs, or other religious gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities and groups. It also allows for expression of religious viewpoints through dress to the same extent as students are permitted to express viewpoints through non-religious dress.
Requires each board of education to adopt and implement a policy regarding voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints and to establish a limited public forum for student speakers at all school events at which a student is to publicly speak, including graduation.
HB 87 – Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville
Scholarships for At-Risk Children
This bill seeks to establish scholarships for at-risk children tax credit program for scholarships for at-risk children. The bill provides a nonrefundable credit against the income tax and the limited liability entity tax imposed for contributions made to a scholarship organization that is organized solely for the purpose of receiving and distributing cash contributions to provide educational scholarships to eligible students at qualified schools.
HB 129 – Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden
Amends the 2014-2016 Executive Branch Budget Bill
This bill would allow a local school district to determine salary increases for employees for the 2015-16 fiscal year. It would require the commissioner of education to determine if salary increases for employees will cause the district budget to fall below the required minimum reserve of 2 percent of the total budget.
HB 142 – Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville
Maximum Class Size
This legislation seeks to prohibit the number of pupils enrolled in a class on the 15th student instructional day from exceeding the established maximum class size.
HB 163 – Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville
Reemployment after Retirement
This bill seeks to provide that effective July 1, 2015, local school districts will not be required to reimburse Kentucky Retirement Systems for retiree health care premiums for reemployed retirees who work less than 80 days a year.
HB 174 – Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville
This legislation seeks to authorize public charter schools and establishes the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission and outlines the requirements and limitations on the establishment of charter schools including identification of charter school authorizers; the application process; student eligibility and participation; and funding provisions.