Graphic reading: Superintendents Webcast, October 12, 2021

Following last week’s ruling from the Franklin Circuit Court that found portions of House Bill (HB) 563 unconstitutional, leadership from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) convened district leaders on Oct. 12 for its monthly superintendent’s webcast to answer questions surrounding the legislation.

HB 563 created a tax credit program permitting funds in qualified education accounts to be used for private school tuition and public school education expenses. On Oct. 8, the court held that the geographic limitations in HB 563 limiting the use of funds in qualified education accounts to education service providers in Kentucky’s eight largest counties violates Section 59 of the Kentucky Constitution. The court also ruled that the bill violates Section 184 of the Kentucky Constitution because it raised or collected a sum for education other than in common schools without first putting the issue to the voters.

In addition to the new tax credit provisions, the legislation contained a provision expanding nonresident student attendance options at public schools. The language in the bill sought to move away from the requirement for a student’s resident district to enter into an agreement with a nonresident school district to receive state SEEK funding for nonresident students.

Though the nonresident student attendance provisions of HB 563 were not at issue in this case, the court held the entire bill was unconstitutional and declined the Kentucky attorney general’s request to sever the unconstitutional portions and allow the remaining provisions to go into effect.

Unless the Franklin Circuit Court amends its order, HB 563 is unenforceable until an appeals court rules differently, explained Todd Allen, KDE’s general counsel.

With the nonresident student attendance portions of HB 563 not set to go into effect until July 2022, the General Assembly will have an opportunity to take further action during its 2022 session, which begins in January.

“At this point in time, obviously I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would be shocked if the General Assembly doesn’t come back into session in January 2022 and put a replacement piece of legislation in place regarding inter-district transfer and attendance,” Allen said.

“That’s honestly something we expect,” added Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass. “We expect the General Assembly to take another crack at this in the next legislative session. We’ll see how that turns out and continue to keep you informed as this develops.”

KDE Pilot Opportunity
KDE is embarking on a pilot program to support schools and districts in the local curriculum development process, the department’s Chief Academic Officer Micki Ray told superintendents during Tuesday’s webcast.

Ray met with the superintendents to share details on a pilot opportunity for districts that focuses on designing high-quality local curriculum.

“We know that states, districts and schools across our nation are now working to retool their systems and structures to ensure that they are able to equitably support all students,” she said. “This need is of course heightened as a result of the pandemic.”

To address the diverse learning needs of students, there is a great need for schools and districts to develop a coherent curriculum that intentionally connects standards, instruction and formative assessment across classrooms, Ray said.

KDE is seeking the participation of up to 32 schools from approximately 12 districts, representing the state’s eight cooperative regions.

“This would account for participation of about two-to-three schools per district,” Ray said. “The application process will consist of answering a few questions and uploading artifacts. We do not want the application to be a deterrent from participation.”

The initial professional learning program will focus on the Kentucky Academic Standards for Reading and Writing. The pilot opportunity will provide free professional learning support to schools and districts aligned with the Model Curriculum Framework.

The application window for the pilot program runs from Oct. 18 to Nov. 23. KDE will notify the selected participants by Dec. 15. The first program will begin in January, with the conclusion taking place in May 2022. The goal is that a high-quality locally developed curriculum would then be implemented in the 2022-2023 school year, per school-based decision making (SBDM) council approval.

Kentucky Department for Public Health Updates
Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH), told superintendents she is “cautiously optimistic” about where the state stands in its ongoing battle with COVID-19.

While White said Kentucky “is headed in the right direction,” she noted that there currently are more individuals on a ventilator right now than there were at the peak of the virus back in December 2020.

“We have 400 fewer people in the hospital now than we did at our peak and we have 42 fewer people in the ICU than we did at our peak,” she said.

Kentucky’s COVID-19 positivity rate sits at 8.26% as of Oct. 12, with 20% of positive cases occurring in the 0-19 age group. Additionally, in the 12-15 age group, only 47% have been vaccinated. DPH has developed a tool to allow Kentuckians to view vaccination rates in local communities.

“We appreciate all the hard work you all have done,” White said to Kentucky’s superintendents. “No one outside of your community will ever quite understand what a lift this has been, to add a pandemic on top of already an incredibly complex job that you have of educating all of our young Kentuckians.”

In other business, superintendents:

  • Heard updates from Toni Konz Tatman, KDE’s chief communications officer. Announcements included welcoming former Kentucky superintendents Scott Hawkins and Rachel Yarbrough to KDE. Each will serve as a special assistant to the commissioner. She also provided details on the upcoming 2021 Kentucky Education Summit. Registration for the summit is free and open through Oct. 15. Additionally, information was provided on the 2021 Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award and the 2021 Kevin C. Brown Strategic Priority Award. Nominations for the RISE Award are open through Oct. 15, while the nomination period for this year’s Kevin C. Brown Strategic Priority Award runs through Nov. 12;
  • Discussed the Kentucky Board of Education’s goals with board chair Lu Young. The board voted to approve its goals at its Oct. 5 regular meeting;
  • Heard Local Education Agency (LEA) American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (APR ESSER) updates from KDE Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster. As of Oct. 12, the department had approved all LEA ARP ESSER plans. Foster also talked with the superintendents about the constitutionally protected prayer certification, which districts must submit to KDE as a condition of receiving funds under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act; and
  • Walked through the 2021 School Counselor Survey launch webpage with Damien Sweeny, KDE’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Required under Senate Bill 8 (2020), the survey helps provide a better understanding of the number, placement, funding and duties of school counselors in the Commonwealth.