Kentucky State Capitol

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Board of Education passed Wednesday a legislative agenda that urges lawmakers to pass full-day kindergarten funding, ratify Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive order that moved the Education Professional Standards Board to the Kentucky Department of Education, and give school districts more flexibility in areas like instruction and staffing.

Absent from the board’s legislative wish list for the first time in three years is any mention of charter schools, which the General Assembly legalized in 2017 without a permanent funding mechanism.

Wednesday marked what could be the final meeting of the board, currently comprised of Bevin appointees, in its current makeup. Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear has promised to completely reorganize the board by executive order and has said he hopes the new board ousts Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis.

Lewis, who supports charter schools, said the omission reflects the Kentucky Department of Education’s desire to pass a legislative agenda “that has some chance of passing and moving the needle forward.” Based on Beshear’s public statements, Lewis said he doesn’t appear “inclined to sign a charter school bill" into law.

The Kentucky Board of Education's legislative agenda for the 2017 session said KDE would push to "advance the best policies and practices" as lawmakers considered charter school legislation, and the panel urged the General Assembly to pass a funding mechanism for charter schools in the 2018 and 2019 sessions.

“Even with a Republican governor and a Republican House and a Republican Senate, we’ve not had a charter school funding mechanism that’s been passed,” he told reporters Wednesday. “My position on the possibilities for high-performing charter schools is well-documented, but I don’t have any interest in us trying to beat our head up against a wall or trying to fight to do something that doesn’t have any hope of achieving passage.”

Funding full-day kindergarten will be the most difficult item on the board’s legislative agenda to pass, he told the state education board. Kentucky requires half-day kindergarten instruction, and some districts like Jefferson County Public Schools take it upon themselves to finance full-day classes.

“At the same time that I have no idea, frankly, where the General Assembly would get the money to do it, I have to advocate for it because I know it’s that important for our kids,” Lewis said.

Other aspects of the board’s priorities in early childhood education include pushing the General Assembly to pass legislation that provides interventions for students beginning in kindergarten who struggle to read and give teachers better training in reading and math instruction.

Board members praised the early childhood pieces of their legislative agenda.

“There is no way to cut the gap that is at the top of our priority list without something a lot closer to universal kindergarten and early intervention,” board member Ben Cundiff said.

Lewis said Bevin’s executive order created the Office of Educator Licensure and Effectiveness, where the EPSB was moved, within KDE. Beyond cost savings to the state, Lewis said the change provides teachers with staff who are “dedicated to preservice preparation, in-service preparation and licensure as well as professional development,” he said.

“You have professionals within that one office that are thinking about how we recruit, how we attract, how we select, how we certify and how we develop educators across the entire lifespan of their career,” Lewis said.

Schools need greater flexibility in particular to attract career professionals, who can oftentimes make more in the private sector than in Kentucky classrooms, to teaching, he told the board.

Going outside a set salary schedule could also help districts bring in teachers to serve areas of critical need, such as career and technical education and secondary math and science instruction, he said.

Lewis said he wanted to give districts the flexibility to pursue changes rather than dictating what those changes should be.

“If a district wants to continue to do what they’ve already done, then continue to do it,” he said. “But for those districts that do want to try some new and innovative approaches, why would we want to stand in their way?”

Board members agreed. Rich Gimmel, one of four board members whose terms are set to expire in April, called the legislative agenda passed Wednesday “attainable” and “much more efficient” than those pursued in the past.

“It is groundbreaking in terms of its commitment to new resources for early childhood education, all-day kindergarten, untying the hands of school district administrators in various ways that allow them to be more creative and innovate,” board member Gary Houchens said.

Other items on the board’s legislative agenda include passing legislation that improves career and technical education offerings and provides greater access to such courses and speeds up the approval process for school districts’ facilities requests.

Copyright 2019 by WDRB Media. All rights reserved.