Legislature ‘did not delay’ in trying to improve education

By DANIEL ELLIOTT

State Representative

FRANKFORT (March 17) – Each of us had a school teacher who we still remember today. That teacher may have spent extra time helping us hone a skill we needed a little more time to learn. Or maybe he or she was a listening ear when we couldn’t find one anywhere else.

Education testimony in this session of the Kentucky General Assembly is full of stories like these. Many state lawmakers are Kentucky public school teachers, or they have children — maybe even grandchildren — who teach in our public schools. We know the hard work that our public schools face at the classroom and accountability levels. And we also know, as do many of you, that there are always areas of our educational system that need improvement.

Because the future for our children starts today, the General Assembly did not delay this week in acting on bills that we believe will bring about improvement to Kentucky public education that Kentucky’s children and the broader commonwealth deserve.

The House advanced Senate Bill 1, a major education reform bill that will ensure our schools’ productivity — not activity — is the basis for how students are taught and tested and how teachers are evaluated in our public schools.

We gave final approval to House Bill 520, which would allow public charter schools to operate in Kentucky. And we amended the state budget to provide a funding mechanism for those charter schools by giving final approval to another bill, HB 471.

But we didn’t stop at elementary and secondary schools in our quest to make public education better. We also focused on public colleges and universities by giving final approval to SB 153, a bill to lessen funding disparities between our state colleges and universities by basing state funding for all but mandated programs on the schools’ student success rate, course completion and operational needs.

SB 1 is back in the Senate, where it is expected to receive final approval when we return for the last two days of the session on March 29 and 30. All the other bills are on their way to the governor, who is expected to sign them into law, perhaps by close of business today (March 17).

Legislation to improve our educational system does not have to take the path of major reform like the bills I just mentioned. It can come in smaller packages like SB 159, a civics education bill that received final approval in the Senate this week.

The point of SB 159 is to make sure Kentucky’s public school students know the basics of U.S. citizenship before they can graduate. Under SB 159, now before the governor for his signature, all public high school students will be required to get a passing grade on a 100-question civics test drawn from the same test given to non-Americans seeking U.S. citizenship before they can receive their diploma, unless they have taken a similar test in the last five years.

It would be impossible to report on all the remaining bills that passed the House and Senate this week without taking up an entire page of this newspaper or running out of radio air time. So, I will instead touch on those bills that would affect the most Kentuckians or bring the greatest change to our state:

• SB 11, passed by the House 65-28 on Wednesday and sent to the governor, would allow the construction of nuclear power plants in Kentucky with thorough vetting by the federal government and state of Kentucky. It would end the state’s decades-old moratorium on construction of the facilities until there is a federally-approved means of high-level nuclear waste disposal, requiring facilities instead to have an approved plan for nuclear waste storage before they could be certified.

• SB 89, which received final approval on a 90-1 House vote Tuesday and is now before the governor for his signature, would allow Kentuckians to more easily access nicotine patches and other drugs or services under their private health plan or through Medicaid. The bill would remove barriers to treatment, such as copayments, required counseling, stepped therapy, and even prior authorization in most cases.

• HB 38, passed on a final vote of 91-0 by the House on Tuesday, would ban registered sex offenders from public playgrounds unless they have advanced written permission to be on-site by the local government body (city council, etc.) that oversees the playground. This legislation has also been sent to the governor to be signed into law.

Two days remain in this session before our scheduled final adjournment on March 30. When we return to Frankfort for those final two days on March 29 and 30, you can expect dozens more bills to make it to the governor’s desk. Final passage of SB 1 awaits, as does action on other key bills that many across the state continue to track.

Please continue to stay informed of all legislative action of interest to you by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at (866) 840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at (800) 633-9650. If you would like to share your comments or concerns with me or another legislator about a particular bill under consideration this session, you can call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181.

Have a great week ahead.