Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday plans to push for legislation in the 2015 General Assembly that would allow Fayette County and other school districts to intervene at schools with achievement gaps.
No legislation has been drafted, but the focus would be on schools with large gaps between minority, disabled or low-income students and all other students. The district would determine whether the principal and the school's decision-making council had the capacity to lead the school.
"The district would choose a model to turn the school around, and assume responsibility for the principal," and for rebuilding the council, Holliday said.
He told the Interim Joint Committee on Education on Monday that the legislation would not cost any money.
Holliday said Fayette County Public Schools officials, along with Jefferson and Christian counties, had asked for the help for schools designated in the statewide testing system as "focus" schools because of problems with test scores and achievement among minority, disabled or low-income students.
In Fayette County for 2013-14, all five high schools were considered focus schools as were seven middle schools and 11 elementary schools.
Fayette's fourth annual equity scorecard that tracks student performance showed that the achievement gap had widened since 2008. There were lower numbers of distinguished and proficient students on the state's K-Prep tests for all groups.
The legislation could allow local school officials to intervene at focus schools earlier instead of waiting until the school is classified as persistently low achieving, also called a priority school, said Holliday.
Outgoing Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton said Tuesday that he first suggested the legislation about three years ago and had more recently discussed the proposal with Jefferson County's superintendent and Holliday.
"We felt like there should have been more flexibility for the district to make ...adjustments and provide additional resources and support," Shelton said. He said a principal might need additional training or resources.
State Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, the co-chairman of the Joint Interim Committee on Education, said he was meeting soon with Holliday about the legislation. "You're going to have to take extra measures to try to improve the educational opportunities for every kid," he said.
State Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo D-Lexington, who serves on the committee, spoke to Holliday about her willingness to help on the legislation.
"I will do anything that will help the Fayette County schools that might be in distress," she said.
Shelton, meanwhile, said he had talked about the issue with State Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, who also serves on the legislative committee.
"One of the key things is that you are looking at the numbers before they become crisis numbers," Flood said. The emphasis in a legislative approach, she said, would be proactive so that school officials could bring preventive care into schools "as opposed to waiting until they get into trouble around the gap."