By Jennifer Ginn 

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman asked Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) members at their June 3 meeting to consider three proposals – to widen the board’s perspective, train teachers, staff and students on racial bias, and increase the diversity of the teacher workforce.

“There are obviously a lot of challenges that we are facing, specifically in Kentucky in Louisville, as well as across this state,” Coleman said in reference to protests across the country due to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Louisville’s Breonna Taylor. “With challenges, I feel uniquely that education was made to meet the moment. … I constantly say every challenge that we face in Kentucky, we find that public education is at least part of the solution, if not the solution.”

Coleman, who is secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and an ex officio member of the KBE, asked members to consider three proposals. The first was to appoint a student as an ex officio member of the board “to help us amplify student voice in the decisions made that affect students every day.”

She also asked board members to work with the Kentucky Department of Education – in partnership with schools and students across the state – to explore implicit bias training and resources for students, teachers and school leaders.

“I think it is vitally important that we make sure every school district across Kentucky, every student and every educator has access to this training and these opportunities,” Coleman said. “I believe this implicit bias training is necessary across this Commonwealth.”

And finally, Coleman asked board members to increase efforts to improve the diversity of the teacher workforce. In January 2019, KDE announced the Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching (KAET), a renewable loan forgiveness program designed to identify and prepare effective, experienced and diverse public educators in the Commonwealth.

“It (KAET) was not funded in the 2021 budget,” Coleman said. “I’m going to work within the cabinet to see how we can remedy that.”

Sharon Porter Robinson, who was elected as the new vice chair of the KBE during the meeting, thanked Coleman for her recommendations and said they are what the state needs right now.

“In education, I think we get paralysis of analysis,” Robinson said. “It’s action that’s needed. Your proposals, all three of them, I think address issues we have been staring in the face almost forever.”

In his address to the board, Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) President Aaron Thompson, said he had attended an all-black school as a child. A first-generation high school and college graduate, he said it wasn’t until he was in graduate school that he saw another African American instructor.

“If we’re here for kids, we’re for all kids, no matter how you shake it out,” Thompson said. “Leaving anyone behind should make us embarrassed.”

“We’re going to offer ourselves (CPE) up as partners,” he added. “… I’ve done this before. We’ve recruited minority teachers and retained them. … It’s going to take focus, it’s going to take strategy and it’s going to take all of us being willing to make those changes.”

Interim Commissioner Kevin C. Brown read a statement to the board that was then released to the public about KDE’s stance on diversity and racism.

“The Kentucky Department of Education is committed to its core values of equity, achievement, collaboration and integrity,” Brown said. “Racism has no place in our society. As educators, we must stand in solidarity against any and all acts of racism, disrespect and inequitable treatment of persons of color. We must speak up about the injustices that are scarring our world, our communities, our friends and families. We must commit to listen to those seeking to be heard and ensure that our young people of color are valued and safe in school and in the community.  

“KDE has been working and will continue to work extremely hard to fix the inequities that exist in our educational system so that each and every student is empowered and equipped to pursue a successful future.”

Board member Alvis Johnson thanked Brown for his clear message.

“I just want to thank you for putting together that memo and I appreciate the thought that went into it,” Johnson said. “Certainly our nation is hurting right now and we need some compassionate people to move this issue of racism forward so we can finally, maybe, get some hold of it after 400 years.”

Jefferson County Update
The board also heard an update from Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Mary Pollio about the progress the district has been making. He said that while the district did well with providing non-traditional instruction (NTI) for the last 10 weeks of school, including handing out more than 20,000 Chromebooks to students so they could continue their education while school buildings were closed, it became obvious that access to a reliable high-speed internet connection is a problem.

Pollio said 30% of the children in the district do not have a reliable internet connection.

“That’s going to be a challenge moving forward,” he said.

Robinson asked Pollio how the district is planning on supporting its 100,000 students, who are likely to be suffering some traumatic stress due to the isolation caused by COVID-19 and the large-scale protests that have been taking place in the city. Robinson said the plan being considered by the Jefferson County School Board to allow students in west Louisville to attend school closer to home also has been controversial.

“We have a lot of community input work to do,” Pollio said. “That is challenging at this time to do it in a safe way because of the coronavirus.”

Pollio said the district does need to make a greater investment in west Louisville, where the newest school was built in 1956.

“Our commitment is that if we are going to provide students the opportunity in west Louisville to stay closer to home,” he said, “we have to provide great facilities and programs for that and support for kids. It is our intention to do that.”

Budget Update
The board heard an update about the funding trend for KDE from Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney and Division Director Charles Harman.

Harman said the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding – the primary funding source for districts – will remain at $4,000 per student for the 2021 fiscal year, where it’s been for the past two years. The SEEK money that does not get spent for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, estimated to be $85 million, has been directed back to the state’s general fund. Harman said in the past, that money could be used for other education-related expenses, like transportation or district health insurance.

Harman said funding for the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) and Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) will continue to remain tight. Most districts spend about 85% of their funding on personnel costs. At KSB and KSD, 94.1% of their funding was spent on personnel costs during the current fiscal year, which has led to KDE having to take funding from the department’s budget to pay light bills and cover other unmet needs.

Harman said funding for the Kentucky Education Technology System, which goes to districts for technology purchases, also was at an all-time low of $15.4 million in 2019. In the 2007 and 2008 fiscal years, it was funded at $24.5 million.

“You see many of them (the funding charts displayed to the board members) going in the wrong direction as far as adequate funding for school districts,” Kinney said.

She also noted that with additional unfunded mandates being passed by the legislature regularly, districts are worried about how to keep essential services funded.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved a candidate to receive the Grissom Award for Innovation in Special Education. The winner will be announced at the board’s meeting in August.
  • Heard an update from KDE staff about the department’s efforts to provide guidance to schools and districts relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster said initial guidance for reopening schools has been released and new guidance documents are scheduled to be released each Monday.
  • Approved the consent agenda items:
    • Voluntary certification of non-public schools;
    • New district facility plans for Carroll County, Pulaski County, Dayton Independent and Paducah Independent School Districts;
    • A district facility plan amendment for the Elliot County School District;
    • Indirect cost rates;
    • A request from the Jefferson County Public School District to Waive 702 KAR 4:050 Section (3) and Portions of 702 KAR 4:170 Related to Project Site Acquisition Size Requirements for a New Elementary School;
    • Audit update and expense reports for the KBE and commissioner of education; and
    • The 2020-2021 Preschool Grant Allotment System and funding rates.
  • Waived certain KBE regulatory requirements in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The waivers included elective graduation requirements for a small number of seniors in Bourbon County and the assessment of college readiness requirement for a small number of students in Warren County.
  • Approved the second reading of a new regulation, 702 KAR 1:180, School Security Risk Assessment Tool.
  • Heard first reading and waived the second reading of amendment to 701 KAR 8:020, Evaluation of Charter School Authorizers. The amendments were made to align with changes the legislature approved in Senate Bill 158 during the most recent session. All charter school authorizers will need to complete six hours of training prior to evaluating a charter school application once it has been submitted. The training will not count toward a local school board members’ annual training requirements.
  • Approved the 2019 Report, 2019 Exceptions and 2021 Plan from the Kentucky School Boards Association as required by 702 KAR 1:115, Annual In-Service Training of District Board Members.
  • Waived certain requirements of 702 KAR 7:065 in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The waiver removed the dead period of June 25-July 9 for middle school athletes.
  • Heard first reading of an amendment to 702 KAR 7:065, Designation of Agent to Manage Middle and High School Interscholastic Athletics;
  • Heard first reading of an amendment to 702 KAR 4:090, Property Disposal. The amendment formalizes an existing process for final approval when districts dispose of surplus property.
  • Heard first reading of an amendment to 704 KAR 3:303, Required Academic Standards. The amendment will move the Kentucky Academic Standards for Technology into a separate regulation. The board also heard first reading of the new standards, which are slated to go into effect next year.
  • Heard an update on state-assisted districts.
  • Voted to extend the time for filing Recommended Order in 19-BOE-0019, Pineville Independent Board of Education v Bell County Board of Education, to June 29. Board member Mike Bowling abstained from voting because both school districts are in the region he represents.

The KBE will hold a special virtual meeting at 9 a.m. ET on June 4 to discuss the hiring process for a new commissioner of education. The meeting may be viewed on the KDE Media Portal.