State board of education votes to settle student funding dispute

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Kentucky Board of Education Virtual Meeting, October 7, 2020The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) adopted a final order on Oct. 7 that settles a long-running dispute between the Pineville Independent and Bell County school districts.

Pineville schools sought to count enrolled students for the 2019-2020 school year who live in the Bell County district for the purpose of receiving Support Excellence in Education (SEEK) funding. This is not uncommon but is contingent on written agreement between the districts concerned. In this case, that agreement did not exist.

At issue was close to $6,000 per student, per year. Pineville schools, the smallest district in the immediate area, argued their continued existence depends on that money.

Pineville can count those students enrolled during the 2018-2019 school year for the purpose of SEEK funding until they finish eighth grade, graduate or withdraw, whichever comes first. But Bell County district residents enrolled in Pineville schools during the 2019-2020 school year or later cannot be counted for SEEK funding, the order says.

The matter was appealed to the KBE, which approved the final order during its video meeting without further discussion or a closed session.

The decision was a modification of the August recommendation of a hearing officer and says for the 2018-2019 school year, Pineville will be allowed to count the Bell County residents it enrolled under an arrangement the Bell County Board of Education endorsed that year.

KBE member Mike Bowling, a resident of neighboring Middlesboro, abstained from that portion of discussion and voting.

Of the 548 Pineville students in 2019, only 197 lived in the district, while 268 lived in Bell County’s territory, with the rest from other jurisdictions. Meanwhile, Bell County schools enrolled only 59 students from Pineville Independent’s district.

The final order from the KBE says Pineville failed to show that Bell County students wouldn’t receive an adequate education in Bell County, only saying it couldn’t pay for its commitments without SEEK money for those students. The order notes that is at least also somewhat true for Bell County.

The order says Pineville made no attempt to raise that revenue from another source, such as charging out-of-district students tuition. Meanwhile, Bell County said its higher property tax makes up for loss of SEEK funds, meaning its taxpayers are essentially subsidizing Pineville schools.

Accountability Changes
In other business, the board reviewed and discussed the impact of Senate Bill 158 (SB158), passed in 2019, on Kentucky’s school accountability system.

Jennifer Stafford, the director of the Division of Assessment and Accountability Support for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), said SB 158 aligns closely with requirements in the federal Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) but adds some further definitions.

The law amends the existing system to include multiple measures differentiating the performance of each district, school and student subgroup, based on a combination of academic and school quality indicators.

The indicators for ESSA include only student assessment results; progress toward achieving English proficiency by limited English proficiency students; quality of school climate and safety; high school graduation rates; and postsecondary readiness.

SB 158 includes a definition of achievement gap. “It compares not group to group, but group to the idea of goal performance,” said KDE Associate Commissioner Rhonda Sims. The results, both each category’s current status and degree of change, must be displayed in an online dashboard.

At least 95% of students must participate in these measures, including subgroups federally defined by race, disadvantage, disability and English learning, according to Brian Gong, senior associate for the nonprofit consulting firm Center for Assessment. Based on assessment results, states must identify low-performing schools for support and improvement, he said.

Complying with the law may require additional funds and take extensive staff time.

As the KBE considers implementing changes, they will use a “triple track approach” including immediate accountability design decisions, a foundational process for improving assessment incrementally and moving toward creation of a new assessment system, Sims said.

The board is likely to hold a work session on a new accountability regulation this fall, followed by a review of regulation amendments in December, as discussion of an assessment system design is underway.

Following a public comment period next spring, a final regulation could come before legislative committees in the summer and be in place by October 2021, Stafford said.

School Turnaround Changes
Amendments to school improvement procedures in light of SB 158 received a first reading at the KBE meeting.

A 2017 state law defined TSI and additional TSI, or ATSI, schools in Kentucky. That law did not match the federal definition, but SB 158 allows Kentucky law to match federal law and the state’s ESSA plan, Foster said.

As revised by SB 158, Kentucky standards now say that each year KDE will identify a school for TSI if it has one or more ESSA-defined subgroups that perform at or below the level of the lowest 5% of all schools for three consecutive years. Every three years, KDE will identify schools for ATSI if they have any subgroup still performing poorly and were tagged for TSI the previous year.

SB 158 reinstates the appeal process that was removed in SB 1 2017.

The revision mandates that a school’s turnaround efforts shall be led by an entity on a KBE approved vendor list which include KDE.

Evaluation Waiver
The board unanimously approved waiving the requirement that evaluations of certified school personnel must be discussed with those personnel no later than 30 days from when they start work.

With teachers working remotely due to COVID-19, districts say they need more flexibility in the timeline of training for their certified evaluation plans, said KDE Associate Commissioner Rob Akers.

“This does not change any requirements around evaluations,” he said. Evaluations will still take place, but the requirement for staff to meet within their first 30 days at work to discuss evaluation criteria has been temporarily waived.

Board Changes
It was the first regular board meeting for Kentucky’s new Commissioner of Education and Chief Learner Jason E. Glass, and board members Randy Poe and Solyana Mesfin. Poe, the recently retired superintendent of Boone County Schools, and Mesfin, a junior at Eastern High School in Jefferson County, are recent appointees to the board.

Former Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin C. Brown, now returned to his position as general counsel for Jefferson County Public Schools, was a guest at the meeting. The board passed a resolution honoring his service as interim commissioner from December 2019 to September 2020. The board’s annual Strategic Priority Award also has been renamed the Kevin C. Brown Strategic Priority Award.

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