Commissioner Wayne Lewis

Commissioner Wayne Lewis

At its Dec. 5 meeting, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) voted to approve a list of legislative priorities for the 2019 session of the General Assembly that places student success and preparedness and family empowerment at the center of our legislative efforts during the upcoming session.

Admittedly, our agenda is ambitious, but I believe the legislative changes we are seeking are central to taking the next critical steps forward with improving education outcomes in Kentucky. While you can access all of our legislative priorities on the state board’s web portal, I want to spend some time here highlighting a few that might be of particular interest to you.

The first priority concerns increasing the voice of parents on school-based decision making councils (SBDM). Established by House Bill 940 – better known as the Kentucky Education Reform Act – during the 1990 legislative session, SBDMs promote the idea of shared leadership of Kentucky’s schools among those who are closest to the students.

SBDM councils play a critical role in the lives of every student attending a public school in the Commonwealth. Kentucky statute grants councils authority to set school policy in key areas including curriculum, selecting the school principal, and selecting textbooks and instructional materials. Currently, state law requires that SBDM council membership be two parents, three teachers and the principal or administrator. Councils may be larger, but must maintain that ratio of parents, teachers and administrators.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) will support legislation that makes the number of parents equal to the number of teachers on these councils. Parental engagement is a vital key to ensuring our schools are meeting the needs of all students, and there is nobody who is closer to students than their parents or guardians. I am convinced that increasing parental engagement in school decision making is key to improving education outcomes and success for students.

KDE also will support legislation that establishes a permanent funding mechanism for high-quality public charter schools in Kentucky. We will support this legislation because charter schools give us an additional tool for raising student achievement, particularly for low-income kids and kids of color in urban areas. Those are the students and the places where research shows charter schools have been most impactful. While we have legislation that allows for the establishment of public charter schools, a funding mechanism for the schools is necessary to provide parents with these additional public school options.

We will support legislation that permits public education funding already appropriated for Kentucky students to follow a child to a public charter school when his or her parents decides that a public charter school is the best educational option for him or her. I want to be clear that Kentucky’s charter school law does not permit students to be assigned to a charter school. In Kentucky, charters must be schools of choice. If, as some have suggested, Kentucky parents do not want charter schools, there will be no charter schools. Parents must actively choose charter schools for their children. If parents don’t choose public charter schools for their children, then there is no movement of funding to charter schools.

Last, I want to highlight a legislative priority concerning early learning. The KDE will support legislation that requires targeted intervention in reading and mathematics for struggling students in grades K through 3. Those first four years of a child’s education set the stage for that child’s entire educational career. If a child falls behind in either reading or mathematics in those early years, it becomes exponentially harder for him or her to catch up or keep up with his or her peers. We are currently engaging stakeholders across the state to discuss what the details of legislation would look like. Excitingly, there is a tremendous amount of interest and energy in this incredibly important area.

And because we know that a great education for Kentucky’s students neither begins nor ends with what happens in Frankfort, we will be engaging more parents and community members than ever before to inform our work. It will take all of us to give our children the education they need and deserve.