Education committee tackles teacher shortage, cell phones in class

Published 3:57 pm Thursday, February 15, 2024

By Sarah Michels

Bluegrass Live

Tuesday, the House Education Committee voted unanimously in favor of two bills addressing the teacher shortage.

Email newsletter signup

Rep. Kim Banta, R-Ft. Mitchell, talked about House Bill 377, which would establish two pilot programs.

The first is called the Teacher Recruitment Student Loan Forgiveness Pilot Program.

The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority would be able to provide a max of $5,000 per semester to students who are accepted into an eligible program of study on their way to getting their teaching degree.

Students would promise to teach at least one year for each semester they receive an award. If they don’t fulfill their promise, the award turns into a loan students must repay.

Additionally, students who have declared a major that is in an eligible program of study could receive up to $2,500 per semester.

The second pilot program provides stipends for student teachers during their semester of student teaching, up to $5,000. This would not be considered financial aid.

While Banta’s bill aims to recruit more teachers, a bill introduced by Rep. Timmy Truett, R-McKee, aims to retain them by lightening their workload.

Truett’s House Bill 387 would significantly reduce the requirements to become a substitute teacher in Kentucky.

It would allow the Educational Professional Standards Board to issue a 1 year emergency certificate for substitute teaching to any applicant who has a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalency.

Applicants could get a three-year certification if they have a bachelors degree in any subject area from an accredited college or university.

They could get a five-year certificate if they previously held a Kentucky teaching certificate requiring a bachelor’s degree or currently have a valid statement of eligibility for one.

Substitutes could not stand in for the same teacher over 20 consecutive days. They would be subject to the same background checks as regular employees.

Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said that the number one concern she hears from educators is a lack of substitute teachers.

Educators are losing their planning and lunch periods to cover their colleague’s classes, and Willner thinks that the resulting workload is a significant contributor to the teacher shortage.

Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, said that if it weren’t for the current teacher shortage, he would vote against this bill, but that the circumstances require it.

“We’re gonna keep putting band aids on these issues until we get a systematic approach to change the game and attract teachers into the profession with pay, with safety, with security, with standards, with accountability measures that are fair and accurate and do truly represent what’s going on in our schools,” he said.

Cell phones in class

The committee also unanimously passed legislation that would give educators more power to enforce no phone policies.

Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, sponsored House Bill 383, which will next go to the House floor for a vote.

The bill requires each local board of education to create a policy banning cell phone use during instruction.

There are exceptions for emergencies and students who are allowed to use their cell phones under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act.

While most schools already have a cell phone policy in place. Bray said that the superintendents he has talked to about his bill are “overwhelmingly” in support, and appreciated the additional authority this bill would give them to enforce those policies.

Bray said that this bill would give teachers extra support, since the administration would be required to have their back.

“This is not going to be as easy as it sounds,” said Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow. “Kids are very addicted to their phones. In fact, in many ways, this is going to be a blood bath for teachers to have to deal with this, just another difficult thing they’re going to have to deal with. Because it’s bad.”

Local boards of education would have discretion over the details of the policy, but Rep. Emily Callaway, R-Louisville, recommended requiring phones to stay turned off in backpacks, rather than in lockers or upon entrance to the school.

Committee Chairman James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, pointed out three issues he thinks this bill could alleviate.

“Students have lost the ability to communicate with other people because they are so dependent on technology,” he said. “We have concerns about academic progress because of constant distractions in the classroom. And the other aspect of this is mental health.”

Tipton cited a statistic finding that suicide among teenage girls has doubled since 2012, around the time smartphones came out.