Op-Ed: Reviewing education legislation as new school year starts

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The following op-ed is written by State Sen. John Schickel (R-Union)

Not only do I have the honor of serving as your state senator, but I sometimes serve as a substitute school bus driver in Boone County. Although I don’t drive often, I enjoy it when I do. I have driven on several first days of school and that is a wonderful experience.

One thing you see firsthand is how much parents love their children. It is something to behold when a kindergartener gets on the bus for the first time. The fortunate ones have parents and grandparents seeing them off with their cameras rolling. Tears stream down mothers’ faces, whether it’s the wealthiest area of Boone County or the poorest. We love our children and want them to do well.

All involved in education have experienced challenges over the last few years. From COVID-19 disruption to natural disasters in eastern and western Kentucky to our concerns and prioritization of school safety, our school staff and families have had a lot to contend with. While not easy, time and effort is worth it to set our students up to have a successful year ahead of them.

My fellow legislators and I are eager to see the many successes the upcoming school year has in store. Over half of state revenues were dedicated to public education in the recently enacted budget. Lawmakers also dedicated over $500 million to schools, many of which have chosen to maximize that financial flexibility and provide raises for school personnel.

We passed and enacted legislation giving a greater voice to parents, residents, and the community in school governance and curriculum by reforming the role of school-based decision-making (SBDM) Councils through Senate Bill 1, which I was proud to sponsor. SB 1 enhances accountability by ultimately giving school boards authority over curriculum and the selection of school principals — an authority SBDM councils had. Superintendents, who are hired and fired by the school board, will now make those final decisions after consulting with and receiving input from SBDMs in their new advisory role. The SBDM model has existed in Kentucky for over three decades. In that time, no other state in the nation has deemed it a worthy model to adopt.

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SB 1 also includes the Teaching American Principles Act, which extends existing elementary social studies standards through middle and high school. It encourages a study of United States historical documents and uniting students around our nation’s history, not dividing it. It also preserves classroom discussion of controversial aspects of history and maintains a teacher’s ability to teach current events on controversial subjects. Most importantly, the Teaching American Principles Act supports civic learning in settings that students may encounter in their lives, like the legislative process. 

We also reformed reading instruction across the commonwealth through the passage of Senate Bill 9, or the Read to Succeed Act. SB 9 systematically improves the quality and delivery of reading instruction to K-3 students across the state by implementing supports, interventions and creating a streamlined curriculum-based foundation in phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension. It also requires reading-specific developmental training for all teachers K-3.

On school safety, the interim joint committee recently heard from the state school safety marshal and the Kentucky Center for School Safety about how legislation passed by the General Assembly is being enacted into law. I think if you look at your child’s school, you will see dedicated efforts to ensure our students, teachers and administrators are safe. I encourage you to visit ket.org/legislature/archives to watch that July 15 meeting. You can also visit the KET website and watch a recent edition of ‘Kentucky Tonight’ that featured an hour-long conversation on the same. These are both resources containing important information for parents, students and staff.

In closing, I want to thank every person who plays a role in ensuring the best possible education for students here in Boone County. It is a pleasure to work with our superintendents and school board members and hear from people in our community.

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I wish each student, teacher and parent nothing but the best as you return to the classroom. Have a great school year.

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