Kentucky’s 2019 legislative session was a busy one for education-related measures.
Several bills grabbed headlines after teachers swarmed the Capitol to protest the measures, and two of those bills failed to move forward following that dissent. The General Assembly also passed what many lawmakers referred to as their “number one priority” — a comprehensive school safety bill. Other new laws kept a lower profile as they moved through to passage.
Here’s a rundown of the education bills that became law in 2019:
This law aspires to boost the number of counselors and police officers in Kentucky schools — if lawmakers follow through with funding next year. The bill’s sponsor State Senator Max Wise estimated it could cost $35 million or more to fund the measures laid out in this legislation, which he called the first step in a two-part process. The law also directs the Kentucky Department of Education to operate an anonymous tip-line, requires schools to secure their entryways and calls on districts to train staff in trauma-informed approaches to instruction.
Senate Bill 8 changes the process by which school districts investigate and decide to terminate a teacher. The law will require school administrators to submit a written description of a teacher’s specific actions that led to a charge of incompetency or insubordination. The law changes the make-up of three-member tribunals that hear those cases, by replacing a lay person with an attorney who has received special training from the Kentucky Department of Education. It also establishes a timeline for the process, and limits a tribunal’s decision to two options: upholding or overturning a superintendent’s decision.
Senate Bill 162: Retired State Police Employed In Schools
The Senate passed this bill on the final day of the legislative session, and it may become law pending the governor’s signature. The bill allows schools to hire retired state police officers to serve as school resource officers. The bill also has a provision to require newly constructed schools to have two water-bottle filling stations, and defines drinking water fountain standards for new schools.
Senate Bill 175: School Accountability Reform
Senate Bill 175 makes a wide variety of changes to Kentucky’s school accountability system. It changes the makeup of the state’s standards and assessment process review committee, and puts increased emphasis on student growth, rather than proficiency, in the weighted formula for academic assessments. The new system also recognizes more ways high school students can prove they are prepared for life after graduation, such as earning college credit, passing an advanced placement test or completing an apprenticeship.
Senate Bill 250 applies only to Jefferson County Public Schools. Louisville Senator Julie Raque Adams has argued the bill, which she sponsored, gives the JCPS superintendent more flexibility to reform the district in the aftermath of a threatened state takeover. The new law will give the superintendent authority to approve larger purchases, reorganize central office staff and select principals. Some educators and parents have pushed back against the provision that will give the superintendent the final say in principal selection, arguing it limits the input of site-based decision making councils put in place as a check on superintendents.
The bill, which passed late Thursday and is pending signature from the governor, would prohibit the use of any tobacco products on public school campuses. The bill is intended to combat teenagers’ use of e-cigarettes, like JUUL, which has surged in popularity among middle and high school students. Supporters of the bill say it will help prevent a generation of children from becoming addicted to nicotine products, while opponents argue it amounts to government overreach.
The bill, which became law without the governor’s signature, will make it the responsibility of local boards of education to appoint new members to fill seats that become vacant within 60 days by a majority vote. Previously, the education commissioner was responsible for appointing new board members when a school board seat became vacant between elections.
The law will require public schools to display the national motto ‘In God We Trust’ in a prominent place, such as an entryway or cafeteria. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bryan Reed, has said that display could be as simple as student artwork, to minimize cost to schools. Opponents have voiced concerns that the display will make non-religious students feel unwelcome.
This law reaffirms the rights of college students and visitors to college campuses to exercise their free speech. The law challenges the use of designated “free speech zones” that confine demonstrations or literature handouts to specific areas of college campuses. Supporters of this bill include students from across the ideological spectrum who say free speech zones have limited their First Amendment rights. Democratic legislators who voted against the measure cited concerns that it could be used to protect instances of harassment.
The General Assembly also passed laws in the 2019 legislative session that would:
- clarify that a legal exception allowing adults to have a firearm in their vehicle on school property does not apply to 18 year old students;
- allow school districts to accept donations to support family resource and youth service centers;
- permit children of military families who transfer to Kentucky on military orders to pre-enroll in a school district;
- allow post-secondary institutions to employ retired police officers on their police force;
- establish a day for Kentuckians to pray, in their own way, for the benefit of the state’s students, teachers and schools.