Education

Teacher shortage ‘crisis’ should be priority for Ky. lawmakers, superintendents say.

Kentucky superintendents said Tuesday they need lawmakers’ help in 2020 to attract and retain teachers in the midst of a critical shortage.

Superintendents fanned out across the state at news conferences to bring up the shortage, the need for more money and other issues facing their districts and to reveal what want from lawmakers in the 2020 General Assembly.

In Lexington, Woodford County Superintendent Scott Hawkins said a main priority was supporting and developing highly motivated teachers to address Kentucky’s “teacher shortage crisis.”.

In addition to competitive salaries and benefits, a secure retirement and high quality insurance, superintendents are asking for safe working conditions for their employees. That includes funding a new wide-ranging school safety law with several mandates whose costs have yet to be determined.

The superintendents say teachers need more instructional tools and technology and training. They say teachers need to be free to teach, not to act as school counselors, social workers or behavioral health specialists. Lawmakers can help by seeing that those jobs are filled by other professionals.

Superintendents are also asking for more funding overall.

Hawkins said over the years, a lot of the burden has been shifted to local school districts to pick up more of the costs to educate students. Hawkins said public schools need to have adequate funding from the state. Superintendents want the school safety bill fully funded so that districts won’t bear the brunt of those costs.

Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk joined several of his peers at the Central Kentucky Educational Cooperative as they talked about building stronger Kentucky public schools.

“All of us are responsible for making sure that our children have an opportunity to fulfill their unlimited potential. To do that, we must have adequate funding,” Caulk said. “All of us are responsible for that, lawmakers included, to make sure that public education in the Commonwealth...is fully funded. “

Additionally, Caulk called for a strong pension system for educators and said that superintendents want greater input in working with school decision-making councils made up of school staffs and parents.

“We’re asking lawmakers, we’re asking our citizens as they vote to think about these top priorities” because it would result in a stronger state and “give our children a brighter future,” he said. Caulk encouraged people to vote in the Nov. 5 general election.

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents said in a statement about their priorities that while educators in Kentucky must debate policy proposals that impact the profession, they must do so without damaging the profession with negative rhetoric.

They said in the statement they don’t support the teacher “sickouts” that occurred last academic year when some districts canceled classes as teachers lobbied at the 2019 General Assembly, but that such reactions to proposed legislation would not be necessary if those impacted were involved early in the legislative process.

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents other legislative and advocacy priorities include:

Asking lawmakers to make a stronger investment in public schools. Over the past two decades, they said education has lost considerable ground in the state budget. In 1996-97, education made up 52 percent of the total budget, while in 2019-20, it comprises only 43 percent of the total, the superintendents said.

Superintendents said they oppose funding charter schools until public schools are adequately funded. Charter schools were approved for Kentucky in 2017, but lawmakers have yet to develop a funding mechanism for them, so none have opened. The superintendents oppose the diversion of public education funds to private agencies through vouchers, tax credits or other methods.

Superintendents want to be able to hire principals in consultation with school councils. Currently in Kentucky, school councils hire principals.

Superintendents want to require a high school diploma or GED of people providing homeschooling and require that home school students can not be habitual truants, which has been a problem in the state for decades.

The lack of focus on education for foster children is becoming an increasing problem in Kentucky so superintendents want to improve coordination between state social service officials and schools.

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