Election, redistricting bills on fast tracks, education bills also filed

One education bill concentrates power in superintendents

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Three education bills, including one concentrating power in superintendents, were filed Wednesday in the General Assembly, but they were

Scott010522a

Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, comments on House Bill 2, the House redistricting plan, in the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

overshadowed by the Republican-controlled Legislature’s rush to get redistricting completed.

As part of that rush, lawmakers took steps to extend the qualifying deadline for the May primaries, giving potential candidates time to decide whether to run and in which district and local county election officials to clean up changes created by the new districts and the extended deadlines.

In the meantime, committees began the process of approving redistricting plans for each chamber as well as the state’s six comngressional districts and seven Supreme Court districts.

The state House approved an extension of election qualifying deadlines and the Senate is expected to follow suit Thursday.

Under HB 172 approved by the House, deadlines will not be 4 p.m. local time on January 25. That’s when the deadlines used to be before lawmakers changed them in 2019. The extension is just for this year and applies to all state and local races. The extension comes as state lawmakers rush to finalize redistricting by the end of this week.

“There’s a lot of questions whether or not we had to move it for everyone or just a select few. Upon conversation with legal counsel, we felt it was important to move it for everyone, mainly because of the judicial precedent that was set several years ago,” state Rep. Steve Judy, a Paducah Republican, explained.

The qualifying deadline was 5 p.m. Friday. County clerks across the state had opposed the extension because it means they could have to re-qualify candidates who aren’t in the district they thought they were in. It also doesn’t call for refunding qualifying fees.

And with a super majority in place, Republicans will have their way with redistricting but that did stop Democrats and outside groups from raising questions in a committee Wednesday.

Republicans said the plan to redraw House districts meets the letter of the law better than ever before. But Democrats questioned how Fayette County actually has fewer people representing it even though it picked up one self-contained district. Republicans said their more compact districts eliminated some of “fingers” that had extended into Fayette County under the districts drawn a decade ago by Democrats.

Questions also were raised about Laurel, Pulaski, Jessamine, Pike and other counties where the League of Women Voters suggested incumbency and not voter interests were the guiding principles. That sparked a clash of opinions.

“We followed it so much that we have four majority members running against each other. Anybody who has done redistricting before knows that is taboo,” Republican state Rep. Jason Nemes, of Middletown, said of how the Republican plan was better. That plan does force four incumbent Republicans and four incumbent Democrats to face each other in four districts.

“These divisions appear to be designed to insure that incumbents, those currently holding office, could continue to do so. In our judgement this should have been drawn more constructively if voters rather than officeholders had been the priority…This process should have take weeks and not hours and include many participants rather than just a few drafters behind closed doors,” countered Dee Pregliasco of the League of Women Voters.

The House is expected to prove its plan Thursday and have plans for the Senate, congressional districts and supreme court approved by Saturday.

Meanwhile, the day included the introduction of three education bills: Senate Bill (SB) 1, a bill relating to school curriculum authority and accountability; SB 9, regarding student reading outcomes; and SB 25, an act to extend flexibility to school districts during the second half of the 2021-22 school year.

Sen. John Schickel (R- Union), chair of the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee, introduced SB 1. The bill would clarify that final decisions on curriculum be made by school district superintendents. It would also strengthen accountability by broadening superintendent authority to include hiring and firing of school principals.

Currently, Kentucky is the only state in the nation with individual site-based decision making councils (SBDMs), which influence instructional curriculum and the hiring of school principals. Stakeholders are provided little recourse for concerns and oversight is lacking in regard to SBDMs.

They remove authority from local school boards — which consist of elected members from the community who answer to voters within the district.

Those board members serve to ensure students receive the education they need to be successful in life. Superintendents are hired and fired by local school boards. SB 1 would provide a stronger foundation by which local education decisions can be made and deficiencies can be addressed.

“This is a game changer. School districts are responsible to the entire community, and school systems should reflect the values of the community,” Schickel said. “I have sponsored this legislation in the past and hope to see it successfully pass during this session so that more stakeholders in education can have a greater voice in the education of students and children.”

Senator Stephen West (R-Paris), chair of the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee, introduced SB 9, also known as the Read to Succeed Act, which is set to systematically improve the quality and delivery of reading instruction to students by implementing supports and interventions across the state for grades K-3.

SB 9 sets the goal for each student to be reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade.

This would be accomplished by setting achievable standards and providing greater professional development teachers to equip each with proper tools. The objective of the bill is to streamline reading instruction so every child in the district is on the same playing field and receiving the same reading instruction.

The Read to Succeed Act follows in the footsteps of legislation passed in Mississippi, overhauling reading instruction and propelling the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing scores to some of the highest nationally. This bill would provide a strong foundation in literacy to all students across the state, making intervention for those struggling easier to target and increase the ability to access more students in need at a reduced cost.

“Implementation of the Read to Succeed Act can be instrumental in improving the education we deliver to students. If kids know how to read by third grade, we know that they are more likely to succeed,” West said. “Legislation like SB 9 was passed in Mississippi and yielded great successes, as NAEP testing scores indicate. For years, we have all talked about how important reading is. My message to my fellow lawmakers is, let’s make sure we are preparing students to walk through the doors reading can open for them.”

SB 25, introduced by Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), extends some of the COVID-19 provisions from SB 1 during the 2021 special session. This includes the stabilization of school funding; support for COVID-19 prevention measures; waivers allowing districts to rehire previously retired staff in order to address staffing challenges; allowing districts to waive the 170 instructional days and utilize the equivalent in 1,062 hours to accomplish make up days under certain conditions, and more.

“SB 25 maintains the flexibility school districts need to provide for the holistic wellbeing of students,” Wise said. “We have seen the unintended consequences of school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also understand schools must have tools available to them to meet challenges specific to the districts they are in.”

Categories: Featured, Local News, News, State News