Education

School superintendents across Kentucky joined together Tuesday to ask the legislature for more overall education funding and support for teachers.

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents organized joint press conferences across the state to lay out their priorities for the next legislative session in January. Local superintendents met at the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative offices in Shelbyville to describe their needs.

When asked why the association decided to hold the press conference immediately before the gubernatorial election instead of shortly before the next legislative session starts in January, Association President James Neihof said it was to bring attention to education funding ahead of the election.

Priority 1: Supporting Teachers

At the top of the association’s list of priorities was professional development and support for teachers, to help address a growing shortage in the field.

“The teacher shortage is impacting us all,” said JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio. “My concern is not necessarily just right now. It’s also what it’s going to be ten years from now.”

Superintendents said they would like to see the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program reinstated, to help train and support teachers who are new to the classroom. The General Assembly suspended the program in its most recent budget.

The Association is also asking the legislature to restore funding for professional development to continually train teachers. The professional development fund was entirely cut from the most recent state budget, after dwindling for several years, down from a high of $4.5 million budgeted in 2006.

Pollio said increasing pay will also be important for teacher recruitment and retention.

“This past Saturday night, I went to get carry out at a local restaurant and ran into a teacher at Cane Run Elementary School who was waiting tables on Friday and Saturday night to make ends meet,” Pollio said, adding that he apologized to the teacher.

Pollio said that, when it comes to pay, “a lot of that is on us.” Local school districts will also need to work with lawmakers to find better ways to increase pay statewide, Pollio said.

Priority 2: Adequate and Equitable Funding

The association is also asking for “adequate and equitable” funding for public schools. As education becomes a smaller percentage of the overall state budget, local taxpayers are having to pick up more of the cost. 

Several local superintendents noted that overall funding for education has shrunk as a percentage of the overall state budget in the past two decades – from 52 percent of the budget in 1997 to about 43 percent today.

“I’m an old high school math teacher,” said Buddy Berry, Superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools. “If you kept the amounts the same, you’d be having almost a billion dollars more in funding right now.” 

The superintendents said additional funding could help support school safety, curriculum and instruction, and the recruitment, training and retention of more teachers.

Other Priorities

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents also outlined these other priorities:

Pension reform: The association is asking for the General Assembly to continue to fully fund the teachers’ pension system and to maintain a defined pension benefit for teachers rather than seeking alternative retirement options.

Privatization: The superintendents association opposes tax credits to support scholarships for private school students. Teachers rallied against a proposed scholarship tax credit during the last session, and the bill failed. Republican State Rep. Bam Carney, who sponsored the bill, said the proposal would likely return this coming session.

Curriculum selection: The association is advocating for more administrative authority over curriculum. Currently, School Based Decision Making (SBDM) councils composed of parents and teachers select the curriculum for their schools. Local superintendents stressed that they want this to remain a collaborative process between school councils and administrators, while formalizing administrators’ role in curriculum selection.

Principal selection: The association is advocating for superintendents across the state to have the final say in principal selection, as Jefferson County’s superintendent does. Principal hiring is currently decided by School Based Decision Making councils except in Jefferson County, where the legislature passed a controversial law that gave Superintendent Pollio the ability to override the council’s choice of principal. That bill was opposed by the Kentucky Education Association, and was among other legislation that spurred teacher sickouts in Jefferson County.

Funding the school safety law: Last year, the Kentucky legislature passed a sweeping school safety bill, and left the matter of funding the proposal to this coming session. Superintendents are asking for adequate funding to meet building requirements in the law and to hire more counselors and school resource officers.