Liberals reject KERA’s takeover policy
By JIM WATERS
All this fuss by feel-good liberals regarding state intervention into the day-to-day management of failing local school districts is puzzling at best and contradictory or even paradoxical at worst since theirs was the political constituency most supportive of House Bill 940 passed nearly three decades ago as the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.
One key feature of KERA outlined on Page 1216 in the Western Kentucky University Library’s online archive copy of the bill describes a process whereby a poorly performing school district could be designated as an “education development district” and managed by the state Board of Education.
KERA was clear from the beginning when it comes to what happens to a district’s superintendent and board members in the wake of such an intervention, stating “both shall be removed.”
So, the original version of KERA directed the state board to appoint a new set of local board members who then would select a new superintendent, subject to the education commissioner’s approval.
While this section of Kentucky law has changed somewhat, those early provisions made it clear: the educational needs of students trump an elected school board that fails to perform for children.
Even with some of the tweaks made since KERA passed, the portion of the commonwealth’s current education law known as Kentucky Revised Statute 158.785, Section (7) allows the same process for failing districts, including the following actions “required of the chief state school officer”:
• “All administrative, operational, financial, personnel, and instructional aspects of the management of the school district formerly exercised by the local school board and the superintendent shall be exercised by the chief state school officer or his designee.”
• “Any local school board member or the local superintendent may be removed from office by the Kentucky Board of Education.”
• “The chief state school officer, through the appointments, may make any and all decisions previously made by the local school board and the local superintendent.”
• “The chief state school officer shall retain clear supervisory and monitoring powers over the operation and management of the district.”
So, while interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis’ recommendation that the state intervene in the Jefferson County Public Schools, which, with its 101,000 students isn’t only Kentucky’s biggest district but also one of the nation’s largest, has drawn emotionally heated attention to the whole takeover process, it’s not a new concept.
Not only does some of the takeover language in the current law date back to before KERA in the mid-1980s, but interventions have occurred a number of times in districts throughout the commonwealth and with apparent success.
Following completion of a state intervention that lasted from 1998 to 2005, Floyd County Schools in eastern Kentucky became one of the state’s better-performing districts after ranking in the bottom-10 in test scores when the state first intervened.
A takeover of Jefferson County, of course, would be a much larger proposition.
It will take greater resources and certainly there’s no guarantee of success.
Regardless, the key here should be what’s in students’ best interest.
So, here’s the puzzle.
In 1990, liberals supported KERA like crazy, including the provisions allowing for the state to take over a locally elected school board.
Now, when some of those KERA chickens are – to paraphrase Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a favorite among progressives – coming home to roost in their city, they’re yelling like mad about a loss of control.
If critically ineffective or inefficient management results in kids not getting an education or being kept safe in a school district, then a consistent philosophy dating back decades says it’s not just legal for the state to take that school district over, it is simply the decent, common-sense and right thing to do.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @bipps on Twitter.