Senate committee approves education reform bill aimed at core academic standards

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, explained an education reform bill before the Senate Education Committee.
Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, explained an education reform bill before the Senate Education Committee. Legislative Research Commission

A revised bill that would lead to changes in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards won approval Thursday from the Senate Education Committee, with the sponsor promising, “It lets teachers teach.”

Senate Bill 1 would create a new review structure for state academic standards and delete some aspects of statewide testing.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senate Education chairman Mike Wilson, said he had spent several weeks meeting with teachers, superintendents, education groups and the Commissioner of Education before drafting a committee substitute with revisions.

The bill proposes that beginning in fiscal year 2017-2018, and every six years after that, academic standards and assessments would be reviewed for replacement or revision.

Panels of educators would make suggestions to a standards and assessments recommendation committee composed of nine members — three appointed by the governor, three state senators appointed by the Senate president and three House members appointed by the House speaker. The standards and assessments recommendation committee would make final recommendations to the Kentucky Board of Education.

The revision adds the Commissioner of Education as an ex officio, nonvoting member to the Standards and Assessment Recommendation Committee and assigns him the duty of presenting the committee’s draft recommendations to the House and Senate Education Committees.

Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, who voted against the bill, asked Wilson if he would change the bill to allow Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt to be a voting member of the recommendations committee. Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said he would discuss it.

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, who voted against the bill, said having lawmakers on the standards recommendations committee politicized the process. But Wilson said that was not the case because lawmakers would represent taxpayers.

The bill passed 9-3 with all three Democrats on the committee casting the no votes.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he had not reviewed the revisions but said the Floyd County superintendent had reservations about the bill.

Pruitt said after the vote that “I do have some concern about the timing of this legislation. The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act provides an exciting opportunity for Kentucky to create an innovative and cutting-edge public education system. Federal regulations on implementing the measure have yet to be drawn up and finalized, and so making changes in our state system would seem to be premature.”

Wilson said that legislation was in line with the new federal act.

Ashlie Arkwright, a teacher at Fayette County’s SCAPA Bluegrass who brought her students to the hearing, said she was concerned that the bill deleted testing in social studies because a de-emphasis in testing on a subject “leads to de-emphasis in the classroom.”

The bill strips the Kentucky Department of Education’s authority to require schools to submit documentation on several fronts. State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, who voted for the bill, said the legislation helped “overworked, and overburdened” teachers.

Citing a need for new common standards, 48 states joined together in the Common Core State Standards Initiative to develop new English/language arts and mathematics standards. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers coordinated the efforts led by several states.

In 2010, Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards and subsequently incorporated them into the Kentucky Academic Standards. How the standards are taught are decided by local schools.

The new English/language arts and mathematics standards were first taught in Kentucky schools in the 2011-12 school year

The standards came under criticism after President Obama’s education department endorsed them and began tying some federal dollars to a state’s adoption of them.

A program review is a school’s self-evaluation of an instructional program, such as arts and humanities or writing, which has been criticized in Kentucky for school’s scoring themselves too high. The proposed legislation replaces Program Review with a requirement for the principal, school-based council, and superintendent to sign a letter of assurance about arts and humanities, practical living, writing and social studies.

The bill will now be sent to the full Senate.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears