Students from Warner Elementary School (Jessamine County) tour the Capitol in Frankfort. Photo by Amy Wallot, March 7, 2013

Students from Warner Elementary School (Jessamine County) tour the Capitol in Frankfort.
Photo by Amy Wallot, March 7, 2013

By Tracy Goff-Herman

The 2013 legislative session was a so-called short session, lasting only 30 days, but it was packed with action on education bills, many of which support the state’s efforts to ensure all students graduate high school college- and career-ready.

Several of the bills that were passed also were priorities for the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE).

Among those were Senate Bill 97 which, like similar legislation that stalled in previous sessions, raises the compulsory student attendance age from 16 to 18.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, allows local school districts to adopt a policy to raise compulsory school age attendance from 16 to 18, beginning with the 2015-16 school year. The policy must apply to all students residing in the district, even if they attend school in another district under a non-resident contract. Additionally, local school boards must certify to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) that their districts have programs and supports in place to meet the needs of students.

If 55 percent (96 of 174 districts) of all Kentucky public school districts adopt a local policy to raise the compulsory attendance, then a statewide mandate raising the compulsory attendance to age 18 for all public school districts will take effect within four years of the 55 percent threshold being met.

In addition to compulsory attendance legislation, a bill that requires KDE to move forward with the creation a new statewide teacher and principal effectiveness system also received approval.

House Bill 180 – sponsored by state Rep. and House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway – requires KDE to have a statewide system of evaluation for all certified personnel in place for use in the 2014-15 school year.

KDE has been working with dozens of teachers and principals for the past three years to create the system, known as the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES). The system, which is being field tested in 54 school districts this school year, will be piloted statewide in the 2013-14 school year. As part of its continued development and per House Bill 180, KBE will create regulations governing the system.

Two other bills counted among KBE priorities also passed this session. They include:

  • House Bill 207, which moves career and technical education programs under KDE.
  • Senate Bill 18 and House Bill 220, which update the state’s funding formula for preschool.

Early high school graduation

Outside of KBE legislative priorities a number of other bills related to public education also passed into law during the 2013 legislative session.

Among them was Senate Bill 61, sponsored by state Sen. and Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, which establishes the option for early high school graduation beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

KBE still needs to promulgate regulations to implement the bill. However, it allows local school districts to award an Early Graduation Scholarship Certificate to students who complete the requirements. The certificate makes the students eligible for scholarship awards that may be used toward costs of the first year of enrollment at a Kentucky public two-year community and technical college or a Kentucky four-year public or non-profit, independent institution that is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

The legislation also mandates that each public high school report certificate recipients to the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) by July 1 of each year. KHEAA will also administer the newly-created early graduation scholarship fund. Beginning with the 2015-16 school year and each year thereafter, the General Assembly must allocate monies to KHEAA for deposit in the fund equal to one-half of the state portion of the average statewide per pupil guaranteed base funding level for each student who graduated early the previous school year.  The other half of the state portion of the average statewide per pupil guaranteed base funding level for each student who graduated early will stay with his or her school district. Also, beginning with the 2013-14 academic year, the early graduates will receive a Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) award equivalent to completing high school in four years.

Pensions and other bills

Pensions were discussed throughout the session with a compromise reached on the final day of business. Senate Bill 2, sponsored by state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, impacts only new hires, not current employees and retirees. The new hybrid pension plan – known as a “cash balance plan” – contains elements of both a defined contribution plan and a defined benefit plan. The bill also provides new hires with a guaranteed four percent return with possible additional benefits based on investment performance

The legislature also passed a bill – House Bill 440 sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville — to fund the pension plan. The provisions are expected to generate $100 million in additional annual revenue dedicated to funding the changes to pension fund. The bill includes changes to the state tax code and anticipated increases to revenue based on federal sources (through increased taxes and reduced federal spending).

Other education-related bills that passed this session include:

  • Senate Bill 56 requires schools to retain for at least one week a master copy of any digital, video, or audio recordings of school activities without editing, altering or destroying any portion of the recordings. The bill also requires retention for at least one month of a master copy of any digital, video, or audio recordings of activities that allegedly include injury to students or school employees without editing, altering, or destroying any portion of the recordings.
  •  House Bill 172 encourages schools to be equipped with epinephrine injectors for the 2013-14 school year, to the extent the injectors are donated or funding is available. Protocols for prescribing epinephrine injectors will be developed by the Kentucky Department of Public Health in collaboration with local health departments or local clinical providers, and local schools and districts.
  •  Senate Bill 75  permits the commissioner of education to grant the equivalent of 10 instructional days for school districts that have missed an average of 20 or more days in the previous three years and use alternative methods of instruction on days when the school district is closed for specific reasons. KBE will promulgate administrative regulations for calculating average daily attendance for instructional time granted.
  • Senate Bill 8 and House Bill 354 are identical and require the adoption of an emergency plan by schools which are shared with local first responders. Emergency plans must be reviewed annually by school officials and first responders must be invited to participate in the review.  Emergency response drills are to be conducted within the first 30 days of school.  There must be one severe weather drill, one earthquake drill, and one lockdown drill within these thirty days.  Additionally, a drop procedure, a safe area evacuation and a lockdown are to also be repeated during January.  The bill removes notification of parents and guardians of lockdown procedures. Local district superintendents must report to KDE by November 1 of each school year that their districts are in compliance.  Local boards will be required to review crime prevention designs when constructing or renovating a school building.
  • SB 114 updates requirements for commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders, including requiring those with school bus endorsements to undergo annual physical examination.
  • HB 45  defines a comprehensive transition and postsecondary program and provides KEES money to students enrolled in a comprehensive transition and postsecondary program.
  • HB 182 updates the statute that sets forth exceptions for non-resident pupils to be included in Average Daily Attendance. The bill allows SEEK funding to be distributed for a non-resident pupil who attends a district in which a parent of the pupil is employed. All tuition fees required of a nonresident pupil may be waived for the pupil.

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