FRANKFORT — Students could gain a voice in the school superintendent hiring process under a bill going to the Senate.
The Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 236 on Monday. The bill would allow school districts to let a high school student sit on the screening committee that recommends superintendent candidates. The bill already has cleared the House and now proceeds to the full Senate.
The Senate committee heard from the bill's sponsor, Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who was flanked by four teen-age members of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team. The students said they are not allowed to sit on school boards or on schools' site-based decision-making councils or otherwise help choose school leaders, although they have more at stake in the classroom than anyone.
"Kentucky law as it currently stands makes it difficult for us to fully contribute to making our schools better," said Nicole Fielder, 18, a senior at West Jessamine High School in Nicholasville. "We are shut out from participating in meaningful school governance."
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For critics who say teenagers are not mature enough to handle the responsibility, Fielder pointed out that future U.S. President John Quincy Adams was 14 when he traveled to Russia in 1781 to represent his country. Pakistani education advocate Malala Yousafzai was 17 last year when she won the Nobel Peace Prize, Fielder said.
Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, praised the students' testimony at the hearing and told them: "It's almost like you've gone from the Thanksgiving kids table to the adult table on this decision right here."
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, voted for the bill and said she will file a Senate floor amendment so that it can take effect the day Gov. Steve Beshear signs it into law, rather than waiting until July, as most new legislation does.
Kerr said she would like to see a student join the committee that is now screening candidates for Fayette County superintendent. Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee and a former Fayette superintendent, told Kerr he appreciated her idea.
If the Senate makes any changes to the bill, it must return to the House for that chamber's concurrence. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly last month by an 88-to-5 vote.
The Senate committee's one "no" vote Monday was cast by David Givens, R-Greensburg. Givens said he will file his own Senate floor amendment to the bill, to clarify that each school district choosing to allow students to participate must reauthorize that decision every time it begins a new hiring process.
"You're a stellar group of students," Givens told the Prichard Committee teens. "I have no doubt about your ability to participate in the screening committee. But eight years from now, 12 years from now, this will still be law. I don't know if we'll have a stellar group like you at all of these schools."