Politics & Government

Lawmakers focus on math, science upgrades

FRANKFORT - The General Assembly is apparently going to approve a plan to improve math and science in Kentucky's schools -- minus incentive pay to attract more qualified teachers in those fields.

The House Appropriations & Revenue Committee yesterday unanimously adopted its substitute version of Senate Bill 1, which includes several initiatives to upgrade math and science. The bill goes to the full House.

But the committee took no action on SB 2, which would provide incentive pay to attract more math and science teachers and to reward them for top student performance.

SB 2 stalled in the House committee in the face of strong opposition by the Kentucky Education Association, which opposes incentive and differentiated pay.

The bills' sponsors held out hope that SB 2 might be rescued in the joint conference sessions that resolve different House and Senate versions of legislation.

The Senate approved the two bills, but their sponsors expressed disappointment that the House committee approved only half of what they considered a package.

"Pulling the incentives kills Senate Bill 2," leaving the math-science initiative too weakened "to make it successful at the level we want," said Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

"We probably didn't make any step forward in attracting and retaining a great cadre of teachers," Winters said.

Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, said "some elected officials are afraid to take a chance" for fear of losing votes in the next election.

Kelly said the "issue is building a cadre of highly qualified math and science teachers in every school in the state, not just one or two here and there."

Nationally, many education and business leaders are calling for stronger math and science instruction because the United States is lagging in these fields.

Winters said SB 1 will provide $3.8 million over two years for several initiatives, including grants to schools, student scholarships for advanced study and better training of teachers.

Incentive pay in SB 2 would cost $900,000 over two years, Winters said.

Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said SB 1 "should be effective" in improving science and math offerings, but he was disappointed that incentive pay was dropped.

"We know from around the country there are teachers' unions that have helped fashion these reforms," Sexton said. "This is an issue that's not going to go away."