Two pieces of legislation aimed at eliminating the achievement gap — a widening gulf that pushes far too many of Kentucky's students toward the lower end of the performance scale — have stalled in the legislative process this year, but hope remains for one initiative designed to turn around low-performing schools.
There's still time for our Senate colleagues to revive House Bill 449 by meeting us in conference committee to compromise on ways to implement an innovation option for schools classified as low-performing for four years. This would allow nonprofit organizations with proven track records in providing leadership and applying best practices to help turn around troubled schools.
Where existing interventions have failed, new learning experiences and creative alternatives could be pursued after approval by the local school board and the Kentucky Board of Education.
Like House Bill 498, which focuses on schools with low test scores, HB 449 takes aim at the persistent disparities in performance between groups of students, especially those defined as minorities, disabled, or low-income.
Students caught in the achievement gap are disproportionately from African-American, Latino and low-income homes. They score lower on standardized tests, graduate at a lower rate, are less prepared for college and are less likely to pursue postsecondary education than their more affluent peers. These discrepancies stunt not only the educational attainment of these students, but their future economic opportunities as well.
Kentucky's business community recognizes the proven connection between educational attainment and household income and joins educators in our efforts to eliminate the achievement gap. Not addressing the issue now also risks the cost of increased social services for those students who fall short of their potential. That's why the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce announced its support of both measures.
The details of our legislative proposals to address the gap in academic performance vary, but the end goal of each is clear: Every child in Kentucky — regardless of skin color, family income or region of birth — deserves a true opportunity to learn and reach their ultimate potential. Clearly, far too many schools are falling short.
Ensuring these gaps are erased is also a moral obligation and a legal responsibility for the state legislature. Time may be running out on this legislation, but we can't let it run out on our kids.
Let's work together March 23 and 24, the remaining two days of the session, to create a sense of urgency so that we can equip our students with the skills they need to be college-ready and able to build sustainable careers in the emerging global economy.
The challenge to ensure that race and poverty are not a destiny remains, and it's up to leaders in both chambers of the legislature to create an environment where every public school student can succeed regardless of race, income or zip code.