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Special Session on Pensions/Education Issues

Special Session on Pensions/Education Issues

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Special Session on Pensions/Education Issues

Renee Shaw interviews Rep. Jerry Miller and Rep. Derrick Graham, about the special session called by Gov. Bevin on pension reform. Later in the program, Renee and her guests discuss the state's new high school graduation requirements and other education issues.
S26 E6 Length 56:33 Premiere: 12.17.18

Exploring Changes in Kentucky Education Policy

Coverage of Dec. 17 Special Session Called by Governor Bevin Opened Tonight’s Program

In a surprise move Monday afternoon, Gov. Matt Bevin called a special session of the General Assembly, leaving lawmakers only four hours to convene in Frankfort. The governor wants legislators to pass a new pension reform measure less than a week after the state Supreme Court ruled the pension bill enacted earlier this year was unconstitutional.

KET’s Kentucky Tonight spoke with two members of the state House of Representatives about the special session: Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Louisville), chair of the House State Government Committee, and Rep. Derrick Graham, (D-Frankfort), who is a member of that committee. Later in the program, host Renee Shaw led a discussion about the state’s new high school graduation requirements and other education issues.

Special Legislative Session
In striking down Senate Bill 151 last Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court did not take issue with the contents of the legislation, but rather the process by which it passed in the final hours of the 2018 regular session. Republican leaders replaced an 11-page wastewater treatment bill with a 291-page pension reform bill and passed the measure that same day.

Bevin, who was critical of the unanimous court decision, said yesterday “there is nothing ideal about the situation that has been put upon us.” The governor said the pension crisis is the single greatest threat to the state’s long-term financial health.

“We have a legal and moral obligation to provide and deliver on the promises that have been made,” Bevin said. “The only chance we have of doing that for those already retired and working toward retirement is to change the system going forward.”

Democrats said they were caught off guard by the governor’s call, which many of them were not aware of until Monday. In a statement released to reporters, House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) called Bevin’s move “short-sighted” and “unnecessary” since lawmakers were just three weeks away from starting the 2019 regular session.

“This is nothing more than a continued mockery of the legislative process and an attempt to silence the public,” Adkins said. “This is a sad day for the people of Kentucky.”

Republican Rep. Jerry Miller says he first heard rumors about a special session on Saturday. He says he doesn’t believe the governor would’ve convened lawmakers if he didn’t have assurances from legislative leaders that they could pass a bill.

Miller says the new reform legislation, House Bill 1, is “almost identical” to the old Senate Bill 151 that passed in late March. and to Senate Bill 1, the original pension reform legislation proposed in February. Although a few provisions have been dropped, nothing new has been added, Miler says, so lawmakers should already be familiar with what’s being proposed.

“We’re not plowing new territory in House Bill 1,” says Miller. “Everyone that has the ability to vote on it this week had eight months of opportunity to read that bill.”

(Editor’s Note: Miller actually filed two bills Monday night. House Bill 2 also deals with pension issues. The legislature adjourned Tuesday evening without having voted on either pension measure.)

But a largely similar reform proposal would still be problematic, according to Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham. He fears the new bill would still violate the inviolable contract with teachers and public employees by reducing their pension benefits, and make it harder to recruit and retain quality workers to state jobs. Graham says calling a special session a week before Christmas further undermines public trust in the legislative process.

“This special session… it really is about destroying the public pension system,” Graham says. “It’s also about getting revenge against teachers, public employees, and retirees, and attacking and disrespecting our Kentucky court system.”

Although he has no role in the pension negotiations, Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis says it’s critical for the state to repair the pension systems that are mired in billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.

“A failure to continue to address these significant challenges will continue to impact our ability to make strategic investments in public education,” says Lewis.

Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, agrees that action is needed. But she says where educators are concerned, the debate needs to include pay as well as benefits to ensure that the state gets the best teachers into public school classrooms.

“Total compensation needs to be part of the discussion, and we haven’t heard enough about total compensation,” Ramsey says.

High School Graduation Requirements
Earlier this month, the Kentucky Board of Education approved a new set of high school graduation requirements that would start with students in the classes of 2023 and 2024.

Although not as rigorous as he originally hoped, Commissioner Lewis says the requirements still mandate that high school graduates demonstrate basic competence in reading and math, either through test scores on accountability assessments taken in 8th or 10th grade, or with a student portfolio that proves their competency. Graduates will also have to complete a minimum of 22 course credits.

Lewis says the biggest changes to the requirements came in the area of transition readiness, which addresses a student’s preparedness for success in college or in the workforce. He says the board heard the concerns that some districts didn’t have the resources needed to help students meet the original readiness requirements the board proposed.

In place of those, the board approved “graduation qualifiers” that Lewis calls a step towards transition readiness. Students can fulfill the qualifiers by taking at least one Advanced Placement (AP) course or one dual-credit course. They can also complete the pre-college curriculum recommended by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, which Lewis says is the basic high school graduation requirements with the addition of two credits in a foreign language.

“While not exactly what I proposed initially, it represents an incredibly important step forward for Kentucky,” says Lewis, “and I’m excited about the possibilities.”

The state board of education also wanted stronger requirements, according to board member Gary Houchens, who is an associate professor of educational administration, leadership, and research at Western Kentucky University.

“In many ways the proposal that we approved is superior in that it is more sensitive to the resource needs that many of our districts face,” says Houchens, “and to the great variance in the kinds of challenges that students bring with them to the learning process.”

Eric Kennedy, director of governmental relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association, calls the new requirements a step in the right direction. But he says his organization still has concerns about how districts that face tighter budget constraints will be able to help their students meet the new state-mandated standards.

“Being an individual requirement for graduation, we thought, we cannot possibly let a student not graduate from things that were not in their control or even in their school district’s control,” Kennedy says.

While the new standards set the minimum requirements for high school graduation, they may not actually set meaningful requirements, says Brigitte Blom Ramsey. She says simply setting a bar for students to meet doesn’t mean graduates will actually be successful or be ready to enter college or the workforce.

Ramsey says districts statewide need a level of funding that will allow them “to radically rethink what high school looks like and how students experience high school so that they’re not only mastering the content that we know they need… but they also have opportunities to apply what they’re learning [and] to be exposed to rich opportunities in career pathways.”

While the new requirements are tougher than the state has had before, Lewis admits the bar for graduation is still low. He says it’s up to local districts to take the state minimums and build upon them given the resources they have available.

Kennedy says the board wanted to pass something that would achievable for every district at the present time. He contends that even setting these minimum standards increases the value of a Kentucky high school diploma to graduates.

Other Education Issues
Public school funding remains a core concern among education advocates. Ramsey and Kennedy say there’s been a decrease in school appropriations, especially since the 2008 recession. But Lewis says that’s not the case when you include money the Bevin administration has allocated for the pension systems.

“When you look at total spending on education in Kentucky for the last five to seven years, you actually see significant increases,” Lewis says. “I would argue and very few people would disagree that spending on public education teachers, employees, and their benefits is education spending.”

Kennedy says during peak funding years in the early 1990s after passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, public education appropriations including pension contributions amounted to 52 percent of the state’s General Fund. Now, he says it’s closer to 43 percent.

Ramsey says additional funding is also needed to address a recent decline in math skills among students.

“If we want to increase [academic achievement and postsecondary success], we need to look at increasing the proficiency of math and the effectiveness of mathematics teaching in the state,” she says. “That’s going to require a commitment to teaching and a commitment to professional development.”

Ramsey and Lewis agree that effective teachers and high-quality classroom experiences should be available to every student in the commonwealth.

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Season 26

Public Education Issues for the 2020 General Assembly

S26 E43 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12.16.19

Gubernatorial Transition

S26 E42 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12.9.19

City and County Issues

S26 E41 Length 56:36 Premiere Date 11.25.19

Hemp's Impact

S26 E40 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11.18.19

Election 2019 Recap

S26 E39 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 11.11.19

Election 2019 Preview

S26 E38 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11.4.19

Candidates for Governor

S26 E37 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10.28.19

Lieutenant Governor Candidates

S26 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10.21.19

Attorney General Candidates

S26 E35 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10.14.19

Secretary of State

S26 E34 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 10.7.19

Commissioner of Ag; Auditor of Public Accounts; State Treas

S26 E33 Length 1:26:40 Premiere Date 9.30.19

K-12 Public Education

S26 E32 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 9.9.19

Public Assistance and Government Welfare Programs

S26 E31 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 8.26.19

Energy in Kentucky

S26 E30 Length 56:40 Premiere Date 8.12.19

Public Pension Reform

S26 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 7.29.19

Quasi-Governmental Pensions

S26 E28 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 7.22.19

Infrastructure

S26 E27 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 7.15.19

Public Education

S26 E24 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 7.16.19

Immigration and Border Security

S26 E23 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 7.8.19

Prospects for Criminal Justice Reform

S26 E22 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 7.1.19

Issues in the 116th Congress

S26 E21 Length 56:37 Premiere Date 6.24.19

Trends Influencing the 2019 General Election

S26 E20 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 6.10.19

Previewing the 2019 Primary Election

S26 E19 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 5.20.19

Democratic Primary Candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor

S26 E18 Length 1:56:41 Premiere Date 5.13.19

Republican Attorney General Candidates, Primary Race 2019

S26 E17 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 4.15.19

Candidates for Secretary of State 2019 Primary

S26 E16 Length 1:26:35 Premiere Date 4.8.19

State Auditor; State Treasurer, Primary Election 2019

S26 E15 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 4.1.19

Commissioner of Agriculture, Primary Election

S26 E14 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 3.25.19

2019 General Assembly

S26 E13 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 3.18.19

Legislation in the 2019 General Assembly

S26 E12 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 3.18.19

Ongoing Debate on Sports Betting

S26 E12 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 2.25.19

Bail Reform

S26 E11 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 2.18.19

Medical Marijuana

S26 E10 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 2.4.19

Recapping the Start of the 2019 General Assembly

S26 E8 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 1.14.19

2019 General Assembly

S26 E7 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 1.7.19

Special Session on Pensions/Education Issues

S26 E6 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12.17.18

Medicaid in Kentucky

S26 E5 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 12.10.18

Immigration Issues

S26 E4 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12.3.18

Mass Shootings, Gun Safety, and Concealed Carry Laws

S26 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11.19.18

Recap of Election 2018

S26 E2 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 11.13.18

Election 2018 Preview

S26 E1 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11.5.18

About

Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, is a public affairs discussion program broadcasted live on Monday nights at 8/7c on KET and KET.org/live.

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