Ahead of next year’s legislative session, the leader of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents promised Wednesday to revive a tactic that helped kill a school-choice bill during this year’s session.
House Bill 205 would have allowed tax credits for donations to private school scholarship programs, but after school district superintendents banded together to publicly oppose the legislation, it withered in committee.
“When we were battling the tax credit issue, we had coordinated statewide press conferences,” said Jim Flynn, the new executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.
Speaking to regional superintendents at the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative on Wednesday, Flynn said KASS will take a similar approach next year.
“We’re going to look at using that strategy to shed light on important legislative priorities,” Flynn said, offering the group of superintendents a sneak peek at the association’s legislative agenda.
That agenda will be officially unveiled Tuesday when the group hosts a superintendents’ summit in Frankfort. Gov. Matt Bevin and several state lawmakers are scheduled to make appearances at the summit.
With lawmakers expected to consider a two-year state budget next year, “adequate and equitable” funding for public education is one of KASS’ top two priorities.
In the previous budget cycle, school districts saw cuts to funding for textbooks, teacher training and a support program for new teachers. For school district leaders who feel like they’re expected to constantly raise the bar for student academic achievement, it still stings.
“They’re critically important to us moving our goals forward for students in Kentucky,” Flynn told the Daily News in an interview.
He honed in on the work of classroom teachers in particular: “They’ve got to have the tools and the resources to do that work,” he said.
Another top priority this year for KASS is to push for educator development and support. School districts across the state are reporting difficulty in filling teaching positions with qualified candidates, Flynn said.
“The pipeline is thinning in terms of the candidate pools,” he said. “In fact, when we surveyed superintendents earlier this fall semester, 95 percent of them said it’s a serious issue that they’re facing. … Everyone’s seeing a much diminished candidate pool across the board.”
It’s consistent with a national trend.
Also during the meeting, Associate Commissioner Rob Akers of the Kentucky Department of Education referenced data displayed in two bar graphs showing enrollment and completion of U.S. college educator preparation programs. Between 2009-10 and 2016-17, both graphs trended in the same declining direction.
KASS will also oppose “any privatization of public funds for education,” according to the group’s draft legislative agenda presented at the meeting.
Additionally, the group will support shoring up the state’s retirement systems and reforming teacher tenure, principal hiring and the role of school-based councils.
“As of right now, these councils have full authority over curriculum, instruction and assessment and we think there ought to be a little bit more balance in that,” Flynn said.
KASS opposed last year’s teacher sickouts but supports giving educators the chance to advocate for public education.
“We’re going to talk more at the summit about building district advocacy teams,” Flynn told the group at the co-op. Doing so would ensure a strong presence in Frankfort “but not disrupt our schools,” he said. Flynn feared that sickout tactics would backfire, turning the public against teachers rallying in Frankfort.
In the long term, as he settles into his new job as the association’s leader, Flynn said KASS wants to play a more active role in crafting state education policy. Flynn was previously superintendent of Simpson County Schools before stepping into his new role in July.
In an interview, he described an effort to create a policy center as a long-term goal.
“We’d like to start crafting policy proposals ... taking those to the General Assembly and say, ‘You know, here’s some things that we think will really make an impact on education.’ ”