What to Expect from Kentucky General Assembly 2019

Only seven days and counting until the beginning of Kentucky’s regular legislative session. Here’s what educators need to know before it begins:

Short Session: Legislative sessions in Kentucky alternate between long sessions on even-numbered years, and short sessions on odd-numbered years. In addition to taking up regular legislative issues, long sessions are where the legislature passes a budget and deals with any expenditures that they want to make for the state. Short sessions are traditionally used to deal with regular legislative issues only.

Pension Reform: Pension reform isn’t dead yet, it will just be harder to pass this year than last year. While Governor Bevin is still very much interested in passing pension reform legislation, passing such legislation during a short session requires a super-majority to vote in favor of it. According to Rep. Bam Carney, Majority Leader of the House, legislators are split on where they stand about passing pension reform legislation, with some in favor of passing a bill similar to HB 151, others wanting to pass legislation that makes even more structural changes to Kentucky’s pensions than HB 151, and still others who would prefer not to pass any pension reform legislation. Without unity among the majority party, it is uncertain whether they will be able to muster enough votes to pass any pension reform legislation during this session. What will this mean for the state? The General Assembly 2018 passed a budget that provided full funding for the Actuarially Required Contributions for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) until the next budget session in 2020. This means that the funding levels for TRS will increase, making the system more stable, even without any structural changes to the system.

Charter Funding: Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis would like to continue pushing for funding for charter schools. This will likely come in the form of a bill that would allow SEEK funding (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, the formula that determines the state allocation to local school districts) to follow students to charter schools. Many people, including legislators, find this problematic, because it takes money away from local school districts and diverts it to charter companies which are independent entities operating outside the state and local governments. Lewis believes that providing SEEK funding for charter schools should not be considered a budgetary expenditure under the state government, which would mean that such a bill could be passed with a simple majority instead of the two-thirds majority required to pass budgetary expenditures in short sessions. In order to alleviate the concerns of rural legislators that such bill would strip their local school districts of needed funding, it is likely that any legislation that would direct SEEK funding to charters would be accompanied by a bill that would limit this to Louisville.

At this time, there has been no pension reform legislation or charter funding legislation filed. Here’s a look at pre-filed bills, also known as Bill Requests (BR), related to education:

BR 11 filed by Jerry Miller — This bill would allow the Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS) board to elect trustees by electronic ballot. Classified educators and other classified staff are members of the KRS pension.

BR 12 filed by Jerry Miller — This bill would change the regulations regarding how local governments, including cities, counties, and local school districts, can invest their money.

BR 15 filed by Dennis Keene — This bill would authorize sports wagering and would designate that the proceeds would go towards Kentucky’s public pensions and the treatment of gaming addiction.

BR 22 filed by Marilou Marzian and BR 31 filed by Attica Scott — These bills would repeal Kentucky’s charter law and remove all references to it from Kentucky Revised Statute.

BR 24 filed by John Blanton and BR 207 filed by Regina Huff — This bill restores the pension income exclusion to $41,110 retroactive to January 1, 2018, and requires an emergency reimbursement to retirees who were affected by the change to the pension exclusion in 2018.

BR 47 filed by Regina Huff — This bill would allow school districts to receive monetary contributions to Family Resource Centers, and would require all donations to be used exclusively for those purposes.

BR 55 filed by Mark Hart — This bill would change the process for filling vacancies on local school boards. Currently these vacancies are filled by the Chief State School Officer. This bill would change that to allow local board members to vote to fill vacancies on their boards.

BR 97 filed by Robert Goforth — This bill would remove location restrictions on concealed carry permits, allowing for the carrying of concealed weapons on school property.

BR 156 filed by Regina Huff and BR 159 filed by Brandon Reed, Kevin Bratcher, Mark Hart, Richard Heath, and Melinda Gibbons Prunty — These bills would require public schools to display the national motto, “In God we trust.”

BR 168 filed by Linda Belcher — This bill would establish a prevailing wage for all public works projects.

BR 204 filed by Robert Goforth — This bill would require the Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS) to notify employers and employees if retirement contributions are not made on time.

BR 238 filed by Kimberly Poore Moser — This bill would allow KEES funds (Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship) to be used for qualified workforce training programs.

BR 251 filed by Reginald Meeks — This bill would require all driver’s education programs, driver’s education manuals, and the operator’s license examination to contain information about how drivers should conduct themselves during interactions with the police.

BR 302 filed by Reginald Thomas — This bill would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour for hourly employees and $4.90 for tipped employees. The increase would be implemented gradually through small annual increases through July of 2026 for hourly employees and through July of 2022 for tipped employees respectively.

BR 320 filed by Julian Carroll — Similar to BR 15, this bill would authorize sports wagering and would create the legislative and administrative framework for it.

BR 324 filed by Addia Wuchner and Kimberly Poore Moser — This bill would require 100 minutes of physical activity as part of the instructional day for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade.

BR 429 filed by Steve Riley — This bill would prohibit corporal punishment in public and private schools and prohibits the use of physical force on minors.

Six Reasons for the Legislature to Gavel Out Today without Taking Action

  1. The Legislature is able to act independently of the Governor. In the case of a special called legislative session, the Governor calls the session and sets the agenda. It is up to the Legislature to decide whether they will pass any proposed legislation during that session. In this case, the Governor called for a special session to deal with public pensions. There have been two pension bills filed, but there has also been a resolution filed to gavel out of the session immediately without taking any action on those bills. If that resolution is passed, the legislature would adjourn immediately, and there would be no action taken on those bills at this time. It would then be up to the bills’ sponsor whether or not to refile those bills during the regular legislative session in January.
  2. There is bipartisan support for gaveling out without passing any legislation during the special session. The Courier-Journal reported yesterday that Representatives Rocky Adkins (D) and Jeff Hoover (R) are introducing a joint resolution to gavel out of the session without taking any legislative action. Both representatives cite concerns about the short notice legislators were given in order to report to the session. Representative Adkins stated, “Neither I nor any member of the House Democratic Caucus was consulted or even given a courtesy call that this was happening, and many of our members are unable to make it tonight. . . this is nothing more than a continued mockery of the legislative process and an attempt to silence the public.” Representative Hover questions the necessity of a special session so close to the start of the regular session: “It’s typical Matt Bevin. He didn’t get his way. And his temper tantrum is disrespectful of the legislature,” Hoover said. It is reasonable to assume that all of the House Democrats and at least some of the House Republicans will follow Adkins’ and Hoovers’ lead.
  3. Special sessions are an expensive use of taxpayer money. The estimated cost of a special session to the taxpayers is $65K per day. Special sessions last five days, for a total cost of $325K. The regular legislative session will begin on January 8, 2019. That’s only three weeks away. If the legislature were to gavel out today, that would save taxpayers approximately $195K. To put that into perspective, the average teacher salary in Kentucky is $48K. Most classified employees in Kentucky make less than half of that. It is better to spend our money on things that will really help children rather than wasting it on a special session.
  4. Passing legislation now during a special session bypasses the will of the voters. The November elections were just over a month ago. During that election, voters chose to vote out a number of incumbent legislators and replace them with education-friendly candidates. Republicans lost a total of two House seats in that election. Those newly elected legislators do not take office until January, and will not be seated during this special session. By calling a session now, Governor Bevin has unilaterally chosen 2018’s lame duck assembly to try to pass pension legislation. This is likely because of constitutional rules which designate even numbered session years as “budget years”, which require a smaller majority to pass budget-related legislation. When the legislature reconvenes for its regular session in January, our newly elected legislators will have full decision-making authority, and it will be more difficult for the Governor to pass legislation making structural changes to the pension systems.
  5. Structural changes to the public pension system will have a negligible effect on funding levels. In the push to pass pension legislation during the 2018 legislative session, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy calculated that the proposed bill would only save taxpayers less than one percent over the next 30 years, and Governor Bevin himself has criticized the bill based on this as fact. Structural changes which strip away benefits from public servants and retirees do not increase pension funding levels. The only way to increase pension funding levels is to invest more money in the system. The biennial budget passed by the 2018 General Assembly did just that by fully funding the Actuarially Required Contribution (ARC) to the pension systems. Since the state started making its full ARC payments three years ago, TRS funding levels have gone up every year – WITHOUT STRUCTURAL CHANGES.
  6. House Republican leadership has already tainted the legislative process by not following constitutional rules during the special session. Last night there was a resolution in the House to change their normal procedures and waive the three day period between the time a bill is introduced and the time the legislature is allowed to vote on it. This three day period is required by our Constitution. In spite of objections from Democrats on the floor (thank you Rocky Adkins, for speaking against the resolution), Speaker Osborne declared the resolution passed without actually holding a vote. If this sounds familiar to you, it is likely because the tactic of rushing bills through an abbreviated process is the same reason why the Kentucky Supreme Court threw out Senate Bill 151 (the Sewage Bill) on Constitutional grounds last week.

A Victory for Democracy

This morning the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down Senate Bill 151, the controversial “sewage bill” that was passed last spring to add significant structural changes to the pension systems for state workers.  These structural changes, including a freeze on unused sick leave for teachers and a cash-balance hybrid retirement system for future hires, were deemed unconstitutional on procedural grounds.  The court specifically cited the lack of three required readings of the bill before it could be brought to a vote, and the lower court’s ruling that these structural changes to the bill would actually increase the state’s debt, and thus would require approval in the House of a majority of 51 votes.  

Legislative Slight of Hand

One of the main agenda items for the GOP during the 2018 session was to pass Senate Bill 1 (SB1), which was the Republican leadership’s version of Governor Bevin’s pension bill.  As the legislative session wore on, it became increasingly obvious that demonstrations and advocacy by state workers and their professional organizations had stalled the progress of SB1, and that it ultimately would not pass as it was written.  With the end of the session looming large, the Republican leadership crafted a more moderate version of the bill, which they believed would be more palatable to moderate members of their party.  Their problem:  There was not ample time for the required three readings of this new bill before the session would end.  

Their solution would be to use a legislative procedure called a substitution amendment to fast-track their new bill through the approval process.  A substitution amendment is when legislators substitute the entire text of a bill with a different full text.  In the case of the pension bill, legislators chose to substitute their new bill for Senate Bill 151, a bill relating to wastewater management (or “sewage bill”).  Senate Bill 151 had already received two of the three required readings before it died in committee.  GOP leadership believed that they could substitute their new pension bill for SB151, and then fast-track it for a vote after only one reading.  The courts disagreed, citing this “slight of hand” as a reason for rejecting the state’s case.  

Democracy Wins

The court’s decision this morning is important because it upholds the right of citizens to have a voice in legislative decisions by engaging with their elected leaders.  Our State Constitution calls for three readings of every bill, in order that legislators and their constituents have ample time to read and understand proposed legislation, and for citizens to share their concerns and opinions about individual bills and make their will known before those bills are passed.  The intent is that legislators’ votes should reflect the will of their constituents.  After months of demonstrations against the governor’s pension proposal and Senate Bill 1, it should have been obvious to legislators that there was no widespread support for pension reform.  The decision to bypass the requirement for three full readings of the “sewage bill”  indicates that elected GOP leaders chose to leverage the power of their numbers to advance their legislative agenda rather than honoring the democratic will of their constituents.  Thank you to the Kentucky Supreme Court for honoring and protecting the rights of citizens to use their voice to influence state government.  

Looking Ahead

The fact that the Court’s decision struck down the pension bill on procedural grounds does not preclude legislators from taking another shot at passing structural changes to Kentucky’s pension systems during the coming legislative session.   Going forward, if our elected leaders want to renew their push to attack our state employee retirement systems, they will surely want to proceed carefully with an eye on following constitutional requirements, so as to avoid another challenge in court.  This means that any new pension legislation proposed this year will move somewhat more slowly than the 48 hours that it took them to pass their SB151 last year.  That gives citizens a chance to engage with their legislators, sharing their opinions and concerns about any new bills.  It is our job to make sure that we are always informed and ready to act.  Whether it is through phone calls and emails to our legislators, town halls with our elected leaders, or rallies at the capitol, we must unite to make our voices heard.  

Why Diversity Matters for ALL Students

Last week Jefferson County Public Schools issued a survey to gather stakeholder input that will inform potential changes to the  JCPS student assignment plan.  While JCPS embraces the idea of equity for every student as part of their vision statement (Vision 2020), the survey itself does not explicitly indicate that racial and socio-economic diversity are goals that we should all embrace in the next iteration of the student assignment plan.  Read on to find out why it is important for every student that we build a better JCPS where race and/or household income level do not limit students’ potential to learn.

Diversity benefits students of all races and socio-economic backgrounds. Learning in a diverse classroom broadens students’ perspective on the world, allowing them to connect abstract concepts to concrete examples from a range of different experiences.  Students experience improvements in cognitive skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities.  In addition, diverse learning environments decrease students’ sense of isolation and increase their empathy and understanding of people from backgrounds different than their own.  Students who are educated in diverse classrooms are better prepared for employment in the global economy, they develop better leadership skills, and they are more democratically engaged citizens.

Minority students and students living in poverty who learn in diverse classrooms experience smaller learning gaps than students who learn in less diverse environments. Students living in poverty learn better and are more academically successful when they learn in a diverse school, with a lower percentage of students of low socio-economic status.  Conversely, attending racially segregated or high poverty schools has a negative impact on students’ learning and academic success.  Diverse schools have increased minority student achievement, lower drop-out rates, and smaller racial and socioeconomic gaps in standardized test scores.

Increased diversity means more equitable access to resources.  Students in high poverty schools are more likely to be taught by inexperienced staff.  Even districts that have relatively high per-pupil expenditure rate, there is often a struggle to maintain favorable class sizes while still providing supports such as behavior coaches and interventionists that students living in poverty typically need.  More diversity across schools within a district means that high needs students aren’t concentrated in just a few schools, which allows for more equitable distribution of resources district-wide.  

According to a 2015 study, Louisville is the fourth most segregated city in the United States.  The current student assignment plan for JCPS is designed around the idea that strategically placed magnet schools will attract families to voluntarily bus their students to schools that they choose, creating more diversity throughout the district.  In spite of that, there are still a number of JCPS schools that have more than 90% of students living at or below the poverty level.  JCPS needs stakeholder input through the student assignment survey to determine the best way to proceed in order to assure that all of our schools are more diverse.  As you respond to the survey, please thoughtfully consider the advantages for every student of learning in a diverse classroom.  

 

 

RESOURCES:

Hallinan, M. (n.d.). Diversity Effects on Student Outcomes: Social Science Evidence. [online] Kb.osu.edu. Available at: https://kb.osu.edu/bitstream/handle/1811/64961/OSLJ_V59N3_0733.pdf [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018].

Jefferson.kyschools.us. (2015). Jefferson County Public Schools Vision 2020: Excellence with Equity. [online] Available at: https://www.jefferson.kyschools.us/sites/default/files/Vision-2020-Brochure.pdf [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018].

Kent, A. and Frohlich, T. (2018). America’s Most Segregated Cities. [online] 247wallst.com. Available at: https://247wallst.com/special-report/2015/08/19/americas-most-segregated-cities/3/ [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018].

Stuart Wells, Amy, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo. “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students”. The Century Foundation, 2016. Online. Internet. 5 Dec. 2018. . Available: https://tcf.org/content/report/how-racially-diverse-schools-and-classrooms-can-benefit-all-students/?session=1.