FRANKFORT (AP) — Advancing one of their top priorities, Republicans who control the Kentucky Senate voted Wednesday to change the way the state develops, evaluates and changes academic standards in its schools.
Some see the far-reaching education bill as a backlash against the state’s adoption of Common Core education standards. Kentucky was at the forefront nationally in adopting the English and math standards.
The legislation would also relieve teachers from doing time-consuming program reviews, said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, the bill’s lead sponsor.
“If you take away some of this high-stakes testing that they’re having to do right now, it gives students more days of instruction,” said Wilson, the Senate Education Committee chairman. “It gives teachers more time to invest in working with their students, actually doing what they love to do.”
The bill passed 25-12 on a near-party line vote. Democrats opposed it along with GOP Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard. Smith said his vote reflected an overwhelming lack of support from teachers in his district.
The measure now heads to the Democratic-led House, where its prospects are uncertain.
The bill would let school districts develop their own teacher evaluation systems, within a state framework.
But a key part of the legislation would create a multi-tiered system to review academic standards and assessments every six years for possible changes or replacement.
Panels of educators would offer suggestions to a committee appointed by the governor, Senate president and House speaker The state education commissioner would also be a member. The committee’s recommendations would go to the Kentucky Board of Education.
Critics said the appointments by state leaders would politicize the development of standards.
Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said the process could lead to “politicians controlling the content of what our students learn. That is very dangerous.”
Sen. Gerald Neal, a Louisville Democrat, said lawmakers should take more time to study the issue and gather feedback from educators.
“When you start making these kinds of changes, you’d better be pretty sure of what you’re doing,” he said.
The Common Core standards were implemented in Kentucky in 2011 with little fanfare but became a flashpoint in national politics, with critics calling them an example of an overreaching federal government. Kentucky officials revised the standards to put the state’s imprint on them.
A few hours before the Senate vote, new state Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt expressed concerns about the timing of the education bill.
Last year, Congress passed legislation giving states greater control over school accountability and the ways testing is used to evaluate teachers, schools and student progress.
Pruitt said he’s concerned about timing because federal education officials are working on regulations to help implement the new federal law. Wilson downplayed those concerns, saying his legislation would be in accordance with regulations that follow the federal law’s intent.
Meanwhile, Pruitt told a House budget panel Wednesday that proposed state budget cuts would hurt a range of school services including preschool and efforts to bolster reading and math skills.
Pruitt praised Gov. Matt Bevin for sparing the main funding formula for K-12 education from the cuts. But he said the governor’s proposed cuts in the current fiscal year and the next two years would affect school districts statewide.
Pruitt said the full brunt of the cuts to education can’t be totally absorbed at state Education Department headquarters. The central office accounts for only a fraction of the overall education budget.
“The severity of cuts will impact our ability to offer equity and achievement to our children,” he said.
Those proposed cuts could affect extended school services, professional development, school safety programs as well as Read to Achieve and Math Achievement initiatives, Pruitt said.
The Senate-passed legislation is Senate Bill 1.