Senate's priority education reform bill passes education committee

02/11/2016 05:34 PM

FRANKFORT — The state Senate’s top priority bill, which would change the way the state would review their educational standards and how schools and students would be evaluated, cleared the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, passed by a 9-3 vote with the three Democrats on the committee — Senate Minority Caucus Chairman Gerald Neal, D-Louisville; Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington; and Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg — voting “no.”

The bill looks to do away with requiring teachers to conduct program reviews and assessments, which educators say take a lot of time and have led to frustration.

In place of the current system, the legislation sets up four subject-area advisory panels made up of teachers and higher-education representatives. The panels would recommend changes to standards or assessments to committees for review.

The final stage in the process would include a Standards and Assessments Recommendation Committee made up of three gubernatorial appointees, three senators appointed by the Senate president and three appointees by the House speaker, and Wilson said he may consider a floor amendment adding the education commissioner to that list. That committee would make recommendations to the Kentucky Board of Education, which would prepare them for implementation.

Wilson says that his bill is all about “letting teachers teach.”

“We have teachers overburdened with program reviews,” said Wilson, R-Bowling Green. “These are just onerous things that teachers shouldn’t be doing.”

Wilson felt that the timing was right for his bill with the congressional passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December, as well as a new governor in place as well as a new education commissioner.

Sen. Steve West, R-Paris, said he’s had a a lot of feedback in favor of the bill from state educators.

“When I spoke to my teachers, my superintendents, assistant superintendents, staffs, three main components that kept coming back again and again and again,” West said. “Testing, reporting requirements, and unfunded mandates. These are killing us. These are not allowing us to teach to our kids.”

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, talked with a recently retired teacher who had grown frustrated with the numerous demands on teachers with the current system.

“She came up to me in tears and said that I just retired this past year because I couldn’t take this anymore,” Kerr said. “I couldn’t take all of this testing, all of this reporting, everything, I was not being able to teach my students.”

Neal, the Senate Democratic caucus chair, noted that there were a number of things that he liked about the bill, but he said that he could not support the legislation because of the “politicized process” in which the governor, Senate president and speaker of the House have three appointees each to the Standards and Assessments Recommendation Committee.

“It’s something that I think is best left with experts as opposed to those that are selected,” Neal said. “They’re not taking this bill, not only through the stakeholders, but those people that do this from day to day. The input they’re talking about is from the top.”

Other changes include more local control and oversight related to struggling schools and teacher evaluations as well as requiring schools to submit letters explaining how they will integrate social studies, writing, arts and humanities, and program reviews into its curriculum.

The bill moves on to the full Senate, where it may come to the floor on Wednesday.


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