Early mornings turned to late nights and spirited debate echoed through the House and Senate chambers as we closed in on the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session in Frankfort. A flurry of bills were sent to Governor Matt Bevin’s desk this week, highlighted by measures to empower our Kentucky teachers and create better learning environments for our Kentucky students.
One of our top priorities in the Senate this session was Senate Bill (SB) 1, which is designed to “let teachers teach” by mirroring the Federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” to foster state and local decision making by our valued educators. The House passed SB 1 unanimously this week with a few minor changes. The Senate plans to accept those changes and send SB 1 to Governor Bevin to be signed into law. Senate Bill 1 will bring sweeping changes to reform education in our Commonwealth, and we are confident those changes will improve our schools for many years to come.
Another education bill that was sent to the Governor’s desk this week was House Bill (HB) 520, which authorizes the establishment of charter schools in Kentucky. Passage of a charter schools bill has been a priority in the Senate for the past several sessions, and we were pleased to finally see its passage with help from our colleagues in the new House Majority.
With the passage of HB 520, Kentucky became the 44th state in the U.S. to pass a bill that permits school choice. None of the previous 43 states that have enacted charter school legislation have repealed it, which gives added confidence that this was the right move for Kentucky. In order for a charter school to be established, it first must be authorized by a local school board.
Complementing the HB 520, we also sent HB 471 to Governor Bevin, which is the funding mechanism for charter schools. It is important to note that HB 471 has been crafted to support, not burden school district funding systems. Based on projected enrollment, a school district would send its request for funding to the Kentucky Department of Education. That district would include charter school enrollment figures as well. A “base” guarantee of funding that is sent to a school district would include adjustments for percentages of students who are at-risk, special education, limited English proficient, home/hospital, plus transportation costs. The formula also requires local fair share by each school district based on taxable property there.
A school district would continue to receive funds as it always has to serve its students, and a charter school would receive even less. Funding to a charter school would be forwarded by the district to the school as though the school were its own, minus 3 percent and other amounts as listed above. So the district would actually keep a percentage of the funds for students they were no longer serving. Regardless, the local school board would have oversight of the charter school’s funding and implementation of its approved plans.
Finally, a school board could deny a charter application if the applicant did not adequately plan to serve a school district’s targeted population. Although the applicant could appeal to the state board, it would be highly unlikely that the state board would overturn a local board’s decision to use its funding to meet the needs of its underserved population.
We value our public schools, our teachers, and our students. It is important to realize that charter schools were not designed to take anything away from our existing system but to provide new opportunities for our students at struggling schools.
Several other important bills moved quickly though the legislative process this week and were delivered to the Governor for his signature:
· Senate Bill 11 lifts Kentucky’s nuclear moratorium to expand our state’s energy portfolio;
· Senate Bill 75 updates the state’s outdated campaign contribution laws that have previously encouraged “dark money” and discouraged free speech;
· Senate Bill 89 removes barriers in health care plans to allow patients to access smoking cessation treatments;
· Senate Bill 91, also known as “Tim’s Law,” is aimed at helping families of those with severe mental illness ensure that individual receives proper outpatient treatment;
· Senate Bill 107, setting up a due process to remove members from dysfunctional or non-compliant state boards, such as university boards;
· Senate Bill 120, comprehensive justice reform that also provides methods for reentry and employment access;
· Senate Bill 136, which offers in-state tuition for all active members of the Kentucky National Guard whether or not they are official residents;
· Senate Bill 159, requiring all public high school students to pass a civics test in order to receive a regular diploma;
· Senate Bill 195, aligning the juvenile criminal record expungement process with that of last year’s House Bill 40, to allow for expungement of certain juvenile crimes;
· And Senate Bill 236, allowing for more thorough background checks on potential child care providers.
Multiple House bills also headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature:
· House Bill 38, known as the “Playground Protection Act,” prohibits sex offender registrants from being on the grounds of a publicly owned playground without explicit permission from a local legislative body;
· House Bill 410 allows citizens to obtain a “voluntary travel ID” that complies with federal security standards aligning with military bases and domestic flight travel, and does not allow for the retaining of birth certificate information;
· And House Bill 156 promotes outdoor recreation and tourism development by establishing the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority, while its committee substitute creates the Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority to aid in economic development in coal-based counties.
Wednesday, March 15, marked Day 28 of the 2017 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. The Senate is adjourned until March 29 and this brief period of time is known as the “veto period,” during which Governor Bevin can veto any legislation that comes to his desk. When we return on March 29, however, the General Assembly has the power to override the Governor’s vetoes, as long as the legislation was passed before the beginning of the veto period.
We will still likely pass a few more bills on March 29 and 30, so I encourage you to continue watching the movement of legislation. It is an honor to serve you in Frankfort, and I look forward to continue to work on your behalf in the General Assembly.
If you have any questions or comments about the issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at [email protected] You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Senator Steve Meredith (R-Leitchfield) represents the 5th Senate District, which includes Breckinridge, Edmonson, Grayson, Hart, LaRue and Meade Counties. He serves as a member of the Education Committee; the Health and Welfare Committee; the Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee; the Medicaid Oversight and Advisory Committee; the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee; and the Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources.