Kentucky education: 6 things to watch for in 2020

Gone are the days when education is a backburner issue in Kentucky. 2020 is here, and with it comes a host of changes to education in the Bluegrass State.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or someone who simply cares about providing the best education possible to the kids of the Commonwealth, here are six major trends to keep your eye on as the new year unfolds.

1. Increasing Per-Pupil Funding

Per-pupil funding has long been a controversial issue in education, but maybe nowhere more so than Kentucky. Here, we call it SEEK funding, which stands for Support Education Excellence in Kentucky. Lawmakers made waves last year by announcing a $4,000 allotment per student, the highest real SEEK allotment ever proposed. However, as the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy points out, that allotment consists of both state and local dollars, and state contributions to SEEK have slightly dipped throughout the past decade, leaving local school districts to foot the bill.

Newly-minted Governor Andy Beshear has promised to make education a budget priority heading into the 2020 General Assembly, but Kentucky’s $1 billion shortfall will certainly make that a challenge. Will we see more SEEK money after all?

2. Are Charter Schools Dead?

Charter schools have been something of a four-letter word in Kentucky these past few years, and that’s in no small part due to their association with Kentucky’s former education commissioner Wayne Lewis. However, in spite of lingering support among House and Senate Republicans, charter schools have not yet appeared to be a priority for the 2020 General Assembly.

Did Lewis’ departure actually hasten the end of charter schools in Kentucky?

It’s hard to say, and that’s mostly because Kentucky doesn’t have any charter schools yet. Charters have been legal in the state since 2017, but with no funding mechanism in place from our state legislature, their opportunities for cash flow are severely limited. In fact, only one charter application has been reviewed in Kentucky throughout the past two years, and it was rejected almost instantly. Combined with the fact that the only charter bill on the table right now is a repeal, it seems clear that 2020 isn’t the year for charters in Kentucky.

3. Scholarship Tax Credits May Make A Return

Scholarship tax credits (STCs), which made some noise last year during the non-budget session of the Kentucky General Assembly, look poised to make a return this year. STCs would allow individuals or corporations in Kentucky to receive a state tax credit for donations made to non-profit organizations that help provide private school scholarships. In that sense, STCs are a form of school choice, so many teacher advocacy groups aren’t happy about them.

STCs were a non-starter in 2019, but with 2020 being a budget session, House and Senate Republicans may be more likely to throw their weight behind them. Will this be the year for STCs in Kentucky?

4. A Possible Pay Raise for Teachers

One of Andy Beshear’s campaign promises was a $2,000 pay raise for teachers across the state. “We should show our teachers that we value them, that they are important and that they are critical partners to the commonwealth in moving our state forward,” Beshear said in a news conference during the campaign.

Of course, that’s more easily said than done. Kentucky would likely need new sources of revenue to make any across-the-board pay raise like this feasible, and it’s not yet clear how that may be achieved moving forward.

5. School Safety Matters

Since passing the School Safety and Resiliency Act  (better known to most educators as Senate Bill 1), schools across the state have been ramping up their efforts to upgrade their safety measures. 2020 will see additional changes at the school and district levels in accordance with that law, which requires all schools to have intercoms, automatic locking doors, camera systems, and eventually metal detectors at the middle and high school levels.

That comes at a cost to school districts, though, and considering Kentucky’s rural landscape, many districts don’t have the tax base necessary to implement those reforms all at once. That means that funding for the School Safety and Resiliency Act will likely be a top issue in the budget session of this year’s General Assembly.

6. Under New Management

Finally, perhaps the most interesting trend to watch as the education landscape unfolds this year will be the newly-appointed state education board, along with their nation-wide search for a new education commissioner. Former Commissioner Wayne Lewis has recently accepted a position with Belmont University in Nashville, leaving a wide-open race for Kentucky’s next education chief.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s new-look Board of Education seems set on a total about-face from the policies of the former board, which is suing Gov. Andy Beshear for the shake-up. Politics, man.

 

So what did I miss? Let me now down below if there’s something else we should be keeping an eye on.

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