College funding and financial aid; preventing drop-outs; and pension reform make the 2013 to-do list

12/10/2012 10:46 AM

UPDATED WITH VIDEO Key legislators and industry leaders laid out their hopes and dreams for 2013 — at least on the policy front — that includes balancing tax reform and pension reform and addressing high-school drop outs and tuition help for college students.

The mood among the various panelists was upbeat. Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, said he was “excited about the changes in the Senate” in which Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester succeeded David Williams as Senate president. And Education Commissioner Terry Holliday predicted a “new collaborative era” between the House and Senate.

Here are a few highlights from the morning sessions at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s legislative preview meeting at the Marriott Griffin Gate in Lexington:

  • Higher Education: Rollins, the House Democrats’ chairman of the Education Committee, said he will again push for a “performance funding” mechanism when funding public colleges and universities that would include factors such as graduation rates, course completion rates and student retention. “We have to get away from just enrollment and get away from not knowing where our money goes.”
  • - Tuition and financial aid: Rollins said he will file legislation to create a task force to examine how state funding is used by public colleges and universities to affect tuition rates and financial aid.

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, in his first public comments since being named Senate Education Committee chairman, seconded that. He said student loan debt should be a “big concern.”

  • - Preventing student drop-outs: Wilson said he is willing to talk with Rollins on “compromise” over a proposal the governor has backed to raise the high school drop-out age from 16 to 18. Rollins said he also wants, as part of that measure, to create an evaluation of alternative schools, which districts should use to help students who are most at-risk of dropping out.

Wilson said he will renew his push for summer learning camps, which would be aimed at helping at-risk students retain the information they might otherwise lose over summer vacations. Research has shown low-income students are most likely to struggle to retain what they had learned in the previous school year.

  • - Teacher evaluations: Both Rollins and Wilson said they want to do more to improve teacher evaluations that will include doing a better job to vet new teachers before they obtain tenure. Rollins also said he wants more empirical data — such as student improvement — to be part of that evaluation as well because “the very subjective system … doesn’t really work.”
  • - Pensions: Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the pension task force decided not to propose a way to pay for sharp upticks in the state’s contribution into the Kentucky Retirement System because the members couldn’t agree on what a fair way to do it would be. For instance, House Speaker Greg Stumbo had suggested the group could have proposed taxing more pension income. Currently, taxes kick in for those who bring in $41,000 a year in pension income.

“We feel it would be unfair to tax private pensions to pay off the unfunded liability in public pensions,” Thayer said. “… We chose not to (suggest a way to fund it). That was not part of our mandate.” He said he is looking forward to the General Assembly taking up recommendations from the governor’s commission on tax reform in 2013.

  • - Lexington’s firefighter and police pensions: Currently, the General Assembly runs this fund. “I think it’s time to change that. I think it’s now time to give Lexington home rule over its own firefighters and police pension plan,” Thayer said.

(Programming note: Pure Politics on Monday night will feature highlights of comments and interviews about the upcoming 2013 General Assembly regarding financial issues, such as tax reform and the financial solvency of the public employee pension system.)


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