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Education Legislation in Frankfort Concerning for Local Districts

Bills vetoed or signed by Governor Andy Beshear on Wednesday were discussed at the Ludlow board of education last week.

Superintendent Michael Borchers explained three pieces of legislation to the board. All were adopted by the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

House Bill 258 which would require that teachers hired after January 1, 2022 to enter into a hybrid retirement plan that proponents argue would save the state $3.5 million in pension costs. Teachers would have to have thirty years of service and be 57 years old to retire without penalty. A contribution of 14.75 percent of a teacher's gross income would be paid into the retirement plan, a 2 percent increase from the current plan.

Board members in Ludlow expressed concern because it reduces a teacher's take-home pay, which could prove challenging in recruiting potential educators.

Beshear, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation, agreeing with the sentiment that it would harm schools' ability to recruit teachers.

“I have continued to support raises and more benefits for our teachers because of educators like Laura Hartke, who teach during the day and drive an Uber in the evening and on the weekends to make ends meet,” Beshear said Tuesday. “The lack of support for our educators is leading to fewer and fewer college students choosing teaching. This is not OK. If the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency has taught us anything, it is the vital role our educators play in the lives of our children and in our economy.”

Borchers also explained House Bill 128, which the governor signed. It allows for all current high school students to request an extra year of eligibility in athletics, after multiple seasons were disrupted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Borchers explained to the board that the most significant impact in Ludlow happened last spring during the first wave of the pandemic, when that season's athletics events were canceled.   

"If HB 128 is signed into law, the board will be required to create a policy, and then decide if they want to allow a supplemental year for all students who request it prior to May 1," Borchers said last week. "The federal graduation rate reporting requires students who enter the ninth grade to graduate with their cohort in four years, and I don't think that will change with this policy."

Borchers said that this could have an adverse impact on a district's graduation rate if current high school students use that supplemental year. The board agreed that this would need some in-depth discussion, so a work session is planned for early April.

Beshear explained his support for the bill on Wednesday.

“The past year has been uniquely challenging, and while educators have done their best in these trying circumstances, the pandemic has deprived some students of priceless opportunities and memories,” said Beshear. “School districts who choose this Supplemental School Year option for their students also will have access to federal funds to remedy learning loss in creative ways and to help all students get back on track academically.”

Arguably, the most contentious education-related piece of legislation to emerge from the legislative session is House Bill 563, which supporters characterize as a "school choice" bill.

Borchers testified in Frankfort against the bill, which aims to allow students in Kentucky counties with more than 90,000 people, including Boone, Kenton, and Campbell, to access to use education opportunity accounts to pay for tuition at private schools. It would also open a $25 million tax credit pool to assist in fundraising for groups that award such accounts, which could also be spend on therapies, tutoring, and other academic services, WDBR explained.

"If a district would lose students to a private school, it will be a funding loss, because all of the fixed costs of a district don't change unless a substantial loss of students occurs in a specific grade level," Borchers explained to the board. "Even though we have our own non-resident agreements, the district would be required to follow the new regulations, and not be able to implement their current agreements already in place."

Newport Independent Schools Superintendent Tony Watts, in an op-ed published Wednesday at The River City News, shared a similar sentiment. 

"Granting tax breaks yanks tax dollars from the state budget at a time when public schools are not being fully funded by state lawmakers," Watts wrote. "That $25 million could be spent on textbooks, technology, expanding and enhancing high speed broadband internet and more. But under HB563, businesses and wealthy donors get a tax break while Kentucky's public school students and districts get the shaft."

Supporters of the legislation, like Mark Guilfoyle, a Northern Kentucky attorney and chairman of the Alliance for Catholic Urban Education (ACUE) development advisory committee, also wrote an op-ed published Wednesday by The River City News.

"Critics of this legislation have propagated outright lies to defeat it," Guilfoyle said. "The legislation will not benefit wealthy families. Benefits are reserved for low-income students. The legislation does not redirect tax funds from public schools to non-public schools. The $25 million is generated from private donations."

Borchers argued that private schools would be able to retain entrance requirements, even if they are discriminatory, while public school have to accept every student that meets all accountability requirements.

State Rep. Buddy Wheatley, a Covington Democrat whose 65th house district includes Ludlow, voted against the legislation and spoke against it while detailing his own education in Ludlow, an act Borchers highlighted for the board.

The General Assembly returns Monday after what is called the veto recess, to assess what action they may take against the governor's vetoes. 

In other business, Borchers said that the district plans to offer uniform raises to all staff members, with some receiving up to a 4.2 percent increase.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer and Michael Monks

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