Senate Bill to Dump Boards Makes Education More Political

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The Kentucky Senate represents the Oath of Allegiance before meeting for the second day of the 2022 60-working day session of the Kentucky General Assembly at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. On Wednesday, January 5, 2022.

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It seems odd that in a state plagued by flooding, a deadly pandemic and now devastating tornadoes, the Kentucky Senate is making a bill to shift the responsibilities of school councils its top priority.

The Senate Bill 1 would move the power to choose a school’s curriculum and the principal of a school away from the boards, which are made up of the principal, teachers and parents chosen in nationwide elections. school. This law has been the dearest wish of school boards and superintendents since the creation of the boards in 1990; it has been presented in one form or another almost every year since then, but has been rejected by coalitions of teachers and parents. An interesting and substantive educational question, yes, but the top priority of the most powerful organ of state?

But now, it seems, his time has come. Why is that? Well, it is about “accountability,” said the sponsor of the bill, John Schickel, R-Union, who is not a member of the Senate Education Committee. “There is a lot of interest in the curriculum,” he said Thursday during the hearing that passed Bill 9-1. “This gives the final say on the program to the citizens of the community. “

Why is the curriculum suddenly so important? Is it because the students are not learning enough or is it because as a result of our country’s racial calculation in 2020, angry and deceived citizens suddenly flood school board meetings to complain about the theory criticism of the breed and that their children could learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr.? Under Senate Bill 1, these parents could go directly to a school board meeting, rather than hearing that a board made up of a principal, teachers and parents thought their child should learn. some notions of United States history. Then they could vote for new school board members who agree with them that students shouldn’t learn about our country’s less tasty times and hire superintendents who feel the same way.

There was a telling moment during Thursday’s meeting of Senator David Givens who asked whether a taxpayer citizen without children in a school had any influence on that school’s curriculum. No, replied Schickel. My answer would be, if you are not a parent or a teacher at this school, why should you influence its curriculum? But that’s not the point he was trying to make.

“If you peel the layers of the onion, it’s ultimately a way for an education council to censor history or anything it deems offensive to schools in its community and I don’t understand not why others can’t see this, “said Nema Brewer, co-founder of 120 Strong, a group of teachers. “To make it the Senate’s number one priority, when we have homeless people and homeless people in Western Kentucky, it’s probably one of the boldest and disgusting things I’ve seen since. years.”

But it’s a bit shiny too. It’s a cleaner way to oust the House Taliban Caucus, Rep. Joe Fischer, Rep. Savannah Maddox, et al, with their merry bunch of anti-critical racial theory bills that are really gags or gags. censorship laws. House Bill 14, for example, would prohibit kindergarten to grade 12 public schools from offering programs or classroom discussions on “designated concepts related to race, gender and religion.” It also prohibits diversity training in higher education.

As somewhat cooler heads in the Senate understand, Bill would poke fun at the first court he quickly found himself in, and make Kentucky even dumber for all those fancy businesses we’re trying to attract. SB 1, on the other hand, bowed to the crowd of forks with far fewer forks.

“Swing the pendulum”

The funny thing is that there is a lot of substantive debate to be had about school councils, which was an innovation of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990. Arguments include the fact that more students move from school to school and need the same curriculum wherever they go. Superintendents have long argued that they want more feedback on the choice of principals, especially in underperforming schools, because this role is so crucial to student success. Jefferson County got special legislation passed a few years ago to allow this.

The answer is, as always, compromise. Superintendents are generally, and should be, part of a board’s deliberations in choosing school leaders. The advice should be part of larger curriculum discussions.

“I think trying to strike a balance between district leadership and school leadership and parents and teachers is a good thing,” said Education Commissioner Jason Glass. “It tries to swing the pendulum from a district-based perspective… I would prefer a better balance between that. “

Glass, who has not been asked to comment on the bill, said this type of consultation could be better defined in the law. By the way, he said his top legislative priorities would be recruiting and retaining teachers, helping students weather COVID disruptions, and getting school districts in Western Kentucky back into working order again. . “We have a lot of big jobs to focus on,” he said.

School councils were also designed to stem the good old nepotism and cronyism that plagued Kentucky schools for decades by reducing the hiring power of a superintendent. I certainly hope we’re past the days of a superintendent unilaterally choosing his best friend as an elementary school principal, and maybe we are.

Looking at groups of parents who were very angry with school closings during COVID, it seems to me that they have asked for more local contributions to schools, not less. On the contrary, there should be more parents in the councils and at the high school level, more students in the councils, a position supported by the Kentucky Student Voice Team, which opposes the bill.

SB1 is about politics taking over schools, not parents and teachers. Getting a school board to bow to the loudest, most angry voices is one way to run a school district, but not the best. It’s also already happening. In Floyd County last year, a parent’s complaints resulted in an entire program being dropped in the district because it included books, like Robert Coles’ “The Story of Ruby Bridges”, a classic book. for children describing the first black child to enter New Orleans schools.

So maybe, like me, you didn’t have on your 2022 bingo card that the Black Lives Matter protests would trigger the Kentucky School Boards Association’s 30-year vow. They will get it, but it may be a lot more than they expected. The majority of the GOP has waged a long war against KERA in particular and public education in general, from its battles with teachers to its now successful battle for tax checks that will divert funding from public schools. Senate Bill 1 is roughly the same.

This story was originally published January 7, 2022 8.40 a.m.

Norman D. Briggs