- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - After weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions with educators, Senate Republicans on Thursday started advancing a bill aimed at creating a new system to review and change Kentucky’s academic standards.

The sweeping education bill - a top priority of the chamber’s GOP majority - cleared the Senate Education Committee on a party-line vote, with Democrats voting against it.

With a new governor and state education commissioner, the timing is right to revamp the system to review and adjust statewide academic standards and assessments, committee chairman Mike Wilson said.

Wilson, the bill’s lead sponsor, said teachers would benefit from the changes, which would unburden them from some other duties and let them focus on teaching. Teachers also would be empowered with the proposed system to reshape standards and assessments, he said.

“It allows Kentucky teachers to take control of our standards,” the Bowling Green Republican said.

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said the bill seeks to make “a sea change” in Kentucky’s public education system without having the proposals sufficiently vetted by stakeholders in the education system.

Wilson responded: “We can’t let our teachers wait any longer.”

The bill was introduced in early January, but Thursday marked the first action on the measure, with this year’s legislative session nearing the halfway point. Wilson said he spent recent weeks reviewing the measure with state education leaders, school administrators, teachers and other education groups.

Those discussions prompted several changes to the bill advanced by the committee.

State Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt watched the hourlong hearing from the back of the committee room. He did not testify, nor did any other education officials. Afterward, Pruitt said he had not yet had time to review changes in the measure but said he had some concerns about the timing of the bill.

The legislation would create a multitiered system to review academic standards and assessments every six years for possible changes or replacement. The process would seek out public input.

Panels of educators would offer suggestions to a 10-member committee. That committee would include three people appointed by the governor, three by the Senate president and three by the House speaker. The state education commissioner would be an ex officio, nonvoting member.

The committee’s recommendations would go to the Kentucky Board of Education. The bill calls for a staggered process to protect teachers from being inundated with all new standards at once, Wilson said.

Neal raised concerns that the appointments by the governor and legislative leaders would inject politics into the process. Those appointees could “carry certain ideological or philosophical positions, as opposed to a pure educational perspective,” in shaping standards and assessments, he said.


The legislation is Senate Bill 1.

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