Education chief: Keep 2009 law's reforms on track

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday "strongly" opposes any delay in implementing Senate Bill 1, the wide-ranging education reform bill that lawmakers passed in 2009, he told Gov. Steve Beshear and state legislative leaders in a letter on Friday.

Holliday said in an interview Tuesday that the letter was intended to "head off" apparent efforts by educators in some parts of Kentucky who are urging lawmakers to delay SB 1, possibly until 2015. Holliday contended that a delay would be a blow for Kentucky's schoolchildren.

"I wanted to head it off before it got steamrolling," Holliday said. "The General Assembly members are getting bombarded with issues right now, and they're going to come back to Frankfort in early February. ... I hope the governor, the (Senate) president and the (House) speaker will take a strong stand that our kids deserve this."

Holliday said delaying SB 1 was a "major topic of conversation" at a meeting between some educators and lawmakers in Western Kentucky last week and at a similar session in far Western Kentucky a few weeks ago.

Holliday sent the letter to Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville; House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg; Senate Education Committee chairman Ken Winters, R-Murray; and House Education Committee chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway. Copies also went to Beshear and state school board members, Holliday's office said.

Williams said later Tuesday that he agrees with Holliday that implementation of SB 1 should stay on schedule.

Educators generally have hailed the measure as one of the state's most important education initiatives since the Kentucky Education Reform Act. Its many provisions include requirements for new core-content standards and a new statewide school assessment and accountability system that would kick in with the 2011-2012 school year.

There have been questions for some time, however, centered on where the money for implementation would come from. The original legislation didn't specify funding.

It's unclear how much support there is for delaying implementation. Wilson Sears, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said there are a variety of views among educators.

"I don't think there are any superintendents that are not believers in Senate Bill 1 or who don't feel that it should be done," Sears said. "I think timing has been the issue ... In defense of those who might want to slow this thing down, I think they just want to make sure we do it right."

One concern apparently is the creation of a new testing system to replace the CATS test. A coalition of states that developed new common core standards is now developing a new national test based on those standards. That test is expected to be ready in 2015, and some educators reportedly think Kentucky should wait for it rather than creating a new assessment of its own.

Holliday said in his letter that some educators "mistakenly assume" Kentucky's assessment would have to be replaced when the national test becomes available in 2015. Others, he wrote, think that dollars earmarked for implementation "could be used for other purposes."

Holliday argued that SB 1 should move ahead because "Kentucky's children need every advantage they can get if we really want to be competitive. Let's don't slow down."

Williams agreed.

"We haven't received any recent information about how much money the department of education thinks it's going to take to implement Senate Bill 1," he said. "But I think it's crucial that we do make Senate Bill 1 the top priority."