Education Matters – January 5, 2024
(1,516 words, 12 min to read)
One Big Thing: The 2024 KY Legislative Preview
The state legislative session has begun and the following article from the KY School Board Association provides a solid summary of priorities, processes, and news. (Article LINK on the KSBA website)
Budget top priority, other education issues percolating
Kentucky School Advocate
By Brenna R. Kelly
When legislators return to the Capitol in January, their first priority will be passing a new two-year state budget. However, as with all legislative sessions, many other issues surrounding public education will be the subject of debate and ultimately result in new laws impacting Kentucky schools and districts.
The biggest influence on Kentucky public education will be the biennial budget which contains all aspects of the state funding that flows to districts and contains the Teacher Retirement System pension contributions.
“Because of the roles and authority of local school boards, which are tied directly to finances, budgeting, facilities and taxes, much of KSBA’s attention this session will be focused on budget issues,” said Kerri Schelling, KSBA executive director.
Legislators will start the 60-day session from a good position when deciding how to allocate state money. The state’s general fund revenues have been increasing and the Budget Reserve Trust Fund now stands at nearly $4 billion.
The Consensus Forecasting Group, an independent panel of nonpartisan economists, reported in October that, so far this fiscal year, the state general fund has increased 6.9%. However, the Center for Economic Policy recently noted that the general fund growth will fail to keep up with inflation over the next few years because of recent income tax cuts passed by the legislature.
KSBA’s top 2024 legislative priority is for lawmakers to approve a state budget that increases the base SEEK allocation, increases transportation funding, continues full-day kindergarten funding, equalizes nickel taxes and provides additional resources to fully implement the School Safety and Resiliency Act.
“Of course, we realize the state has many needs and legislators will have to make tough choices, but we hope that there will be a positive outcome for public education in the final budget,” Schelling said.
One budget aspect that has been widely discussed before the session is raises for teachers and other school employees. In his budget proposal released in August, Gov. Andy Beshear called for an 11% raise for all school personnel
The legislature’s Republican majority has said they prefer to allow school boards to decide on how to use any increase in SEEK funding. After the legislature increased SEEK funding in the 2022 budget, 95% of school boards approved across-the-board raises for district employees, according to a KSBA survey.
All but nine districts provided raises in their 2022-23 budgets with about 37% giving all employees the same percent raise, and 58% adopting more complex compensation packages such as raises for targeted groups of employees, alternating increases for classified/certified staff or determining increases by years of service.
During an Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting in October, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Jim Flynn told lawmakers that districts would prefer an increase to base SEEK funding instead of mandated statewide raises because each district is different.
Districts in more urban areas are competing with private employers for employees, districts along the state’s borders are competing with other states, and other districts are competing with each other for employees, he said.
“Local context matters a lot, and that maximum discretion at the local level by the superintendent and the local board of education to deploy those resources that you all invest is what’s preferred,” Flynn said. “We really appreciated the approach of 2022 and would hope that 2024 biennial budget policy would take the same or similar approach.”
During the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s legislative preview event on Nov. 13, House Education Committee Chairman Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said because surrounding states have increased the minimum salary for teachers it has put pressure on the legislature.
“I don’t know how much, but I do expect we will be looking to put more money in education with a focus on salaries,” Tipton said, according to the Kentucky League of Cities.
Other education issues
The Commonwealth’s system of common schools touches the lives of more Kentuckians than almost anything else so, once again, there will likely be many education-related bills proposed.
Lawmakers have said that legislation involving Jefferson County Schools is at the top of their to-do list. After a transportation breakdown at the start of the year, House Republicans released a letter signed by 12 Louisville-area lawmakers calling for changes in the district.
The plan included “extensive changes to our school board,” a commission to evaluate breaking up the district, allowing all students to attend the closest school to their homes and placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow voters to decide whether public money should be allowed to fund private schools.
During the Chamber of Commerce’s event, Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, and Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said that the constitutional amendment would be a priority this session, according to WLKY-TV. "It’s sort of my one big conservative, Republican issue that we haven’t put to bed,” Thayer said. In KSBA’s 2024 Legislative Issues Survey of school board members and superintendents, only 27% of respondents supported putting the constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said that, even though the constitution currently prevents what he called “school choice,” there would be many bills filed addressing the issue because, “Kentucky shouldn’t be afraid of this. Forty-four other states, blue and red, have embraced school choice and it is time for us,” he said, according to the Kentucky League of Cities. A bill is also expected to be filed to help school boards whose districts qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), meaning all students are able to receive free school meals. When a district has CEP, there is a gap between what the federal government pays for school meals and the actual cost to the district. Under the bill, proposed by Rep. Chad Aull, D-Lexington, and Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, districts would receive funding to close the gap and still be able to provide free meals for all students.
Another issue on KSBA’s priority list is making permanent the provisions of House Bill 678 which allows boards to save money and speed up construction of school facility projects.
Since the law went into effect in April 2022, boards have been able to move forward on construction projects without waiting for multiple approvals from the Kentucky Department of Education. However, the provisions will expire on June 30, 2024, unless the General Assembly extends them or makes them permanent. As of late November, at least 160 boards had voted to use HB 678, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.
In KSBA’s recent legislative survey, 88% of school board members and superintendents who responded said they support either extending the measure or making it permanent.
After Senate Bill 9, the Read to Succeed Act, of 2022 focused on early literacy and created new professional development that helps teachers learn how to better teach students to read, lawmakers are now turning their attention to numeracy.
Tipton, when he spoke to KSBA’s board of directors in September, told the board that after the successful passage of the Read to Succeed Act, he is planning a similar proposal focused on numeracy in the 4th through 8th grade levels.
“We know that all aspects of academic content are important,” said KSBA President Karen Byrd. “But literacy and numeracy are among the most fundamental building blocks of education, so we are eager to see what the numeracy instruction bill will entail.”
Legislating in an election year
In 2024, all 100 House of Representative seats and half of the Senate seats will be up for election. The filing deadline is Jan. 5. Before the start of the session, several lawmakers had already announced they will not seek reelection to the legislature, including:
• Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville
• Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville
• Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill
• Sen. John Schickel, R-Union
Follow the 2024 legislative session
Follow the session by watching KET’s livestream of the House and Senate education committee meetings at ket.org/legislature and following @KSBAnews on X (formerly Twitter). KSBA will also send its Legislative Update to board members and superintendents every Friday during the session.
2024 Regular Session
Jan. 2: Legislature convenes
Jan. 5: Filing deadline for legislative seats
Feb. 26: Deadline for new House bills
Feb. 28: Deadline for new Senate bills
March 29-April 9: Veto period
April 12 and 15: Veto override days
April 15: Sine die (last day of session)