LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Superintendents across Kentucky want lawmakers to pass measures to attract and retain educators and boost funding for their schools, among other legislative priorities for the upcoming budget session laid out during news conferences throughout the state Tuesday.
Area superintendents gathered at Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative in Shelbyville as part of a broader push by the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents to release its priorities for the 2020 legislative session, during which lawmakers will be tasked with writing the next two-year budget.
Atop the list of priorities for KASS is recruiting and retaining educators amid a nationwide teacher shortage and providing adequate resources for schools throughout Kentucky.
Houston Barber, superintendent of Frankfort Independent Schools, said the state’s share of education spending has dropped from 52% of the biennial budget 22 years ago to 43% in the current two-year spending plan.
While education is a state responsibility in the Kentucky Constitution, “the burden of education funding is shifting from the state to local districts, which have limited means of raising the much needed revenue,” he said. Moderate increases in funding through the state’s Support Education Excellence in Kentucky have been offset by cuts in other areas of education, such as professional development and instructional materials, he said.
“The General Assembly should provide more flexibility for local school boards in their ability to implement or raise taxes to support their students,” Barber said. “...Bottom line, Kentucky needs to make a stronger investment in its public schools.”
To help attract and retain teachers to fill Kentucky’s classrooms, superintendents say lawmakers can take steps like increasing pay and benefits for educators, ensuring safe working environments and investing in programs like teacher internships and professional development.
Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio said while picking up take-out from a restaurant this weekend, he ran into a Cane Run Elementary teacher who was waiting tables to “make ends meet.”
Pollio said he apologized to the teacher for needing to work another job.
“I sure would rather have that teacher spending those 10, 15, 20 hours, whatever they work on the weekend preparing for lessons,” he said.
Part of the funding push by KASS includes school safety initiatives required by Senate Bill 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act passed by the General Assembly this year.
Shelby County Public Schools Superintendent James Neihof, president of KASS, said districts face “significant” expenses in facilities and staffing to get into compliance with the new law.
“We have a lot of schools across Kentucky that do not have what we would call a secure vestibule,” Neihof said. “...The idea that schools across Kentucky need to have a secure entrance that funnels people into an office area for vetting before they go on into a school, that in itself is monumental.”
Other primary planks of the KASS legislative platform are fully funding public pension systems; opposition to charter school funding and scholarship tax credits; allowing superintendents to hire principals with consultation from school-based decision making councils; providing more of a balance between superintendents and SBDMs over matters like school curricula.
Whether lawmakers will go along with superintendents’ legislative priorities in next year’s budget session remains to be seen.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, told WDRB News that increased spending on teacher pensions and school safety will be paramount when the General Assembly convenes in January.
“Those will be the two biggest education-related priorities that the commonwealth has,” McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It would be nice to do another adjustment to SEEK, but we’ll just have to see how that plays out.”
While superintendents at Tuesday's news conference didn't have a price tag for their legislative priorities in next year's budget session, they said education needs a larger share of spending from the state.
"It is important that our piece of the pie grow in order that we have adequate funding for safety, for training, for social and emotional support, for all those things that kids need to thrive and to later thrive as adults so that our commonwealth thrives," said Kelley Ransdale, superintendent of Anchorage Independent School District.
"I don't think we can put a specific dollar amount on that because there are several different components that blend together."
With the gubernatorial election a week away, Neihof said "that had a bearing" on the timing of the superintendents' announcement of their legislative priorities for next year.
"We think it's a major topic in the future of the commonwealth, how we educate the coming workforce, how we educate the coming leaders for society and for our communities," he said during Tuesday's news conference.
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