Education reform bill passes Kentucky Senate Committee
The comprehensive education reform bill -- the top priority of the Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate -- passed it's first hurdle on Thursday, however it is expected to face a battle in the Kentucky House, which is controlled by Democrats.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- A comprehensive education reform bill -- the top priority of the Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate -- passed it's first hurdle on Thursday.
Although not the original legislation that was introduced earlier this year, the intent and scope of the committee substitute to Senate Bill 1 that was approved 9-3 by the Kentucky Education Committee is the same and it will now go on to the full Senate for approval.
It is expected to make it out of the Senate, but faces a battle in the Democrat-controlled Kentucky House.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, would make fundamental changes to education assessment and accountability in Kentucky. He called it the "Teachers Can Teach Bill," saying it reduces the "bureaucratic burdens on our educators."
Wilson told committee members that he has met with superintendents across the state and lots of teacher groups, including the Kentucky Education Association and the Jefferson County Teachers Association, as well as Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, about the bill.
"The input we've had has been invaluable from all the groups...and answered multiple questions and made adjustments," Wilson said.
He also noted that the bill comes two months after the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 10.
"Now is the appropriate and right time to do (this)," Wilson told reporters after the meeting.
The bill proposes that academic standards and assessments would be reviewed for replacement or revision every six years, beginning with the 2017-18 year, by a panel of educators to a standards and assessments recommendation committee composed of nine members — three House members appointed by the House speaker, three state senators appointed by the Senate president and three appointed by the governor.
Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, was one of the three Democrats to vote against it.
Neal said while he can agree with some of the bill's language and intent, his main concern is that it has has not been properly vetted.
"You are right in giving our teachers credit, because that is where the rubber meets the road," Neal said during the meeting. "Our teachers do a tremendous job and don't get enough credit for it."
However, Neal said he worries about who will be appointed to the assessments recommendation committee.
"The fact of the matter is that the appointments are a political process, and whether we like it or not, it becomes a political piece," Neal said.
There is also a concern by some lawmakers and officials that the changes being proposed in the bill will be out of compliance with federal law or put the state at risk of losing federal money.
"We looked extensively at ESSA and spoke with senate majority leaders office and staff...that was a big, big concern for us," Wilson said. "I don't think we are jeopardizing any money with this bill at all."
A big component of the legislation seeks to remove social studies from the state’s accountability testing system.
The Kentucky Council on Social Studies opposes the bill, saying that social studies teachers would have no clear standards from which to build curriculum.
Education Commissioner Pruitt said Thursday the bill addresses many of the same issues the Kentucky Department is currently reviewing and revising – standards, assessments, accountability and student achievement.
"The devil is in the details, however, and we are in the process of examining recent revisions to the original bill for clarification," Pruitt said. "What I can say at this point is that I do have some concern about the timing of this legislation."
Pruitt said the new federal ESSA "provides an exciting opportunity for Kentucky to create an innovative and cutting-edge public education system."
Federal regulations on implementing the measure have yet to be drawn up and finalized, and so "making changes in our state system would seem to be premature," he said.
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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