With the 2020 Regular Session behind us, I hope to use my legislative updates to review some of the work we did this session. It makes sense to start with education, since so much depends on both how we approach this issue and how successful we are. Investing wisely will prepare Kentucky children to reach their potential in the workforce and in life.
Before I begin, it is impossible to talk about education without considering the impact COVID-19 has had on Kentucky’s children and their families. After all, the end of in-person learning for this school year also means the cancelation of so many special celebrations that our children have worked hard to enjoy. For our high school seniors, it means no graduations, no baccalaureates, and no proms. For others, it means no end of year award ceremonies, field trips, and school plays. For teachers, it means trying to keep students learning by using technology, thousands of paper packets, and new resources. Parents now balance schoolwork, working from home, and parenting. This is hard. Really hard. However, it is temporary and I know that our best days are still ahead of us.
As I mentioned, we approved several bills aimed at improving educational opportunities for all Kentuckians. Of course, the biggest bill we passed this session was our state budget and we cannot talk about education without talking about how we funded it in that spending plan. Even with grave concerns about how COVID will impact our economy, we put education first. The one year budget we passed includes approximately $6.2 billion from the general fund for education. I am extremely proud to share that we budgeted $38.4 million to fund the School Safety Act. This includes $18 million to make our school facilities safer, $13 million for the School Safety Commission and $7.4 million in for new mental health professionals. Remember, the goal of the School Safety Act was to strengthen our children and our schools — this funding is a giant leap in the right direction.
Our budget fully funded the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System at $1.2 billion. This amount is beyond what the law requires to the actuarially required contribution (ARC) level. Also, we fully funded the health insurance plan for retired teachers under 65 at $61.7 million. Remember, this House Majority is the first in decades to fully fund the pension and take seriously the obligation our state has to our public retirees.
Student safety was the focus of SB 8, legislation that clarified that a school resource officer (SRO) must be present on each individual school campus. We also passed SB 42, which requires a very small change in our student identification cards that has the potential to make a very big difference. SB 42 will require school districts to include domestic violence, sexual assault, and suicide prevention hotlines on IDs, providing access to help.
House Bill 312 and HB 458 were created to give educators tools to serve all children, no matter their circumstances. HB 312 improves communication between schools to help our foster children transition from one school to another. Knowing the challenges a child faces can make a great difference in how teachers and school personnel can help students. HB 458 allows for electronic delivery of teaching when a student is unable to attend in-person visits due to being hospitalized outside of their home district. SB 63 provides an opportunity for high school drop outs who are 21 years of age or older to complete their high school diploma by using a virtual program if they meet certain criteria. The student completing their high school degree will also have the option to complete the school's virtual program in the district of their choosing.
SB 158 will change the current educational accountability system and awaits the Governor’s signature. Under the provision, schools in the bottom 5% of Kentucky will now be identified every three years, instead of annually. SB 158 also will no longer require high school seniors to pass state tests or demonstrate readiness for life after high school to graduate. This bill should encourage the Kentucky Department of Education to incentivize a reduction in the achievement gap by assigning additional accountability and resources for underperforming groups toward proficient performance.
SB 174 provides educators a more relevant and economical path to earn Rank II status by allowing National Board Certification (NBCT) to serve as a qualifier.
Many post-secondary measures were also signed into law. Among them is SB 101, which would require postsecondary institutions to accept dual credits from high schools. In dual credit, a student is enrolled in a course that allows the pupil to earn high school credit and college credit simultaneously. HB 331 allows money saved through 529 education savings plans to be spent on apprenticeship programs. This legislation aligns Kentucky with the federal SECURE Act. A 529 educational savings plan can be used for tuition, costs for fees, books, and equipment.
I hope that this legislative update was able to provide information on the positive changes we will see in education, as well as clear up some misconceptions. Even though I am not in Frankfort full-time, I want to hear from you regarding local concerns or ways I can assist you. I can be reached through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181 or here at home. You can also contact me via e-mail at Danny.Bentley@lrc.ky.gov.
DR. DANNY BENTLEY is the 98th District representative .