Senate passes priority omnibus education bill

On Wednesday, Kentucky’s state Senate passed their multi-layered bill given the symbolic top priority designation of the Senate that could change many aspects of Kentucky’s education system with a 25-12 vote.

Referring to this year’s Senate Bill 1 as “Phase II” of the 2009 legislation that instituted education reform, Senate Education Committee Chair Mike Wilson pushed the measure through his committee on a party line vote last week.

Among its many provisions, the legislation proposes a review process for local and state academic standards. Four committees are established to review state standards and assessments along with 12 advisory panels. The committees would then make recommendations to a panel composed of three members appointed by the governor, three state senators appointed by the Senate President, three House members appointed by the House Speaker, and the Commissioner of Education.

The commissioner would also be given the responsibility to present the panel’s draft recommendations to the House and Senate Education Committees. The Kentucky Board of Education would hear the final recommendations.

A floor amendment to the bill introduced by Wilson was also passed Wednesday that gives the Commissioner of Education voting rights on the panel and that adds social studies in the review of academic assessments.

Wilson said the goal of Senate Bill 1 is to “let teachers teach again.” However, during debate on the floor about the bill Wednesday, some members of the Senate expressed concerns over the panel made up of appointees by the governor and legislative leaders, stating they believe it is “politicizing education” in the state.

Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville explained that he appreciates Wilson’s efforts to make changes to the education system but stated he feels the legislation is pre-mature and will conflict with changes made at the federal level which are still being put in place. Neal introduced a floor amendment to the bill which was defeated in a roll call vote.

Prior to voting on the measure in committee last week, Wilson assured the committee that SB 1 worked in concert with the new federal education policies signed into law in December.

If passed, SB 1 would trigger a review process beginning in fiscal year 2017-2018 and occur every six years after that.

Other provisions of the bill include replacing program reviews with letters of assurance. A school’s principal, site based council, and superintendent would sign a letter of assurance about arts and humanities, practical living, writing and social studies courses. SB 1 also returns teacher evaluations to local school districts.

The omnibus education measure now moves to the House to be heard in committee.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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