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Rep. Steve Sheldon Legislative Update: Education Bills Approved During 2019 Session

Representative Steve Sheldon

With the school year coming to an end in just a few short weeks, I know many of you are looking forward to graduation celebrations, field days, spring recitals and the promise of summer vacation. This is a fun and hectic time of the year for those of us with school-age children. For many of our educators, the end of this school year means planning for the next. I would like to take a moment and discuss some of the important education initiatives that we passed this session.

Without a doubt the most important bill we passed this session is the School Safety and Resiliency Act, SB 1. This measure came out of the work done by the School Safety Working Group. This group traveled across the Commonwealth and met with stakeholders in law enforcement, education, and the mental health field to come up with a comprehensive school safety policy. We took what we learned from these meetings and took action to combat increasing school violence, an effort driven by the tragic shooting at Marshall County High School last year. The measure is aimed at strengthening both our schools and our children. Not only does it call for steps to “harden the target” and make our facilities harder to breach, but the bill also focuses on building stronger school communities in an effort to reach troubled children with services. This measure establishes a state goal of providing more School Resource Officers and school counselors.

The School Safety Act is the first step in our commitment to protecting our children and we will look at funding the measure in the budget we pass next session. We have many partners in this work, and I am pleased to see that the Kentucky School Boards Association has wasted no time. The KSBA reached out to its members just last week with a survey asking them to detail their facility needs and anticipated costs associated with SB 1 standards. The survey responses are expected back by September 1, giving us time to include them in the budget process next session.

Another important education initiative we tackled was expanding resources available to Family Resource and Youth Service Centers (FRYSCs). These centers, in schools across the state, offer important programs and services to meet the needs of the population being served, available resources, location and other local characteristics. FRYSCs have established a record of success based on improved student performance in class work, homework and peer relations as reported by teachers. HB 21 allows them to accept private donations to provide resources for children in need. This measure comes on the heels of an increase in FRYSC funding that the legislature prioritized in last year’s budget. This will mean more students are able to benefit from the educational resources that FRYSCs offer.

Kentucky high school graduates may choose to pursue a post-secondary degree, job training, or a military career. No matter the path that students chose to go down, the General Assembly is working to ensure that they have all the resources necessary to be successful. A bill we passed that would help those interested in a military career. The bill, HB 250, requires schools to provide students in grades 10-12 the opportunity to take the ASVAB test annually, offer counseling based on the ASVAB test results, and excuse meetings with a military recruiter. Many students are excused from school to visit and register for college, and this bill simply gives the same allowances to students pursuing a military career after graduation.

We also prioritized opportunities to aid in a student’s pursuit of workforce training upon graduation. One of those bills, HB 61, was aimed at improving access to educational opportunities that lead straight into the workforce. HB 61 would allow Kentucky students to apply earned KEES scholarship money toward a qualifying apprenticeship or qualified workforce training program that are in a high demand work sector. This bill will ensure high school students have the opportunity to use earned scholarship money to pay for workforce training. This will ensure a greater accessibility to these programs, and will aid in our statewide effort to recruit more workers to these in demand fields.

Another bill geared toward access to work force training and education was SB 98. SB 98 establishes the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program. The program ensures that Kentuckians have affordable access to an industry-recognized certificate, diploma, or associate of applied science degree. The scholarship is available to eligible dual credit high school students or eligible workforce students who have not earned an associate's degree. This bill again prioritizes the varying needs of students, and the needs of a growing workforce in Kentucky.

We also approved HB 46, which makes Kentucky the 20th state to require public elementary and secondary schools to display the national motto ‘In God We Trust’ in a prominent location. The motto can be displayed in the form of student artwork or through other affordable means. I supported this measure because I agree with the positive message and patriotic display of our nation’s national motto.

Before finishing, I want to share that we expect the Governor will call the legislature into special session in the next few days. You may remember that he rejected an agreement that provided financial relief for quasigovernmental agencies – including local health departments, mental health agencies, and rape crisis centers – and our regional universities participating in the Kentucky Retirement Systems. Last week he provided members with a copy of his proposal to replace this agreement. I am reviewing it, as well as reaching out to both the organizations and the employees impacted by this issue and will give it careful consideration. Timing is extremely important to this issue, as all of the regional universities and some of the quasigovernmental agencies have June 1 budget deadlines. However, we must make sure we provide the very best solution.

I will be including the pension and other issues we are working on in my next columns. In the meantime, I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information, or to e-mail me, please visit the legislature's website www.legislature.ky.gov.

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