Support the JCPS Property Tax Increase

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

Taxes are an investment; education is worth it.

The Jefferson County Public School system is a wholly unique institution in the state of Kentucky. We are without comparison. At nearly 100,000 students, we dwarf our closest peer district by almost 60,000 children. With over 150 schools in operation, we double our sister district, Fayette County Public Schools. While we have more buildings, more children, and a much larger overall staff, there is one area where Fayette County Public Schools exceeds us; property taxes. 

As Americans, we are slightly programmed to balk at the mention of taxes and increasing them. Our rebellious founding leaves a distaste for taxes for many of us. The reality is that taxes are a necessity to provide government services that are basic rights. Looking at other districts, it is clear that JCPS is behind the curve when it comes to levying property taxes.

Compared to the districts closest to us and closest to our size, JCPS is not following the trend of our fellow districts. In fact, the second highest property taxes is by our closest neighbor, Anchorage, a district carved out of the middle of our own. While people who oppose the tax increase will make noise that they can just move to Oldham County, the taxes there are even higher than Jefferson County.

Aside from comparing ourselves to other districts’ property taxes, we have to look at some stark realities. Our district is in dire need of renovations. Over thirty of our buildings will reach end of life over the next decade. We don’t know exactly when it will be and it could be overnight as the condemning of Ballard’s football facility was during the 2019 football season. Except next time, it might be the actual school building. While Ballard was able to play their games on other fields, where would we house students if their building suddenly fails? What if more than one goes at once? We also need more buildings. While opponents often remark on the need to end bussing to save money, the reality is that the buildings to house students in the West End do not exist. If we suddenly stopped bussing students west to east in Jefferson County, there would not be seats in the West End to accommodate them. Further, the buildings that exist also need renovations. It’s short-sighted and inequitable to just demand that students from the West End no longer be allowed to attend schools outside of their zip code. We are a district of choice. Our students and families have the choice to choose the school that fits their needs and that also includes bussing students from the East End to magnet programs that fit their needs.

In addition to all of these needs, over 60% of our students qualify for free/reduced lunch. We have over five thousand students who are homeless. Those are just the ones we know about. Our English as a Second Language and English Language Learner population is over ten thousand students and growing. With the societal issues brought to light while dealing with COVID-19, we know our students need smaller classes and more technology now more than ever. We don’t know what the return to school will look like, but we know that there is no way to social distance with the current high school classroom cap size of 31 students per class. 

Are there ways our district can save money? Absolutely. And we are working on those. The truth is that we cannot continue to squeeze blood from a turnip and expect to give our students what they deserve. Our students deserve the best our city has to offer them and that means paying slightly more in property taxes. The proposed increase would amount to $70 total for a year on a home that costs $100,000. Isn’t that amount worth it to help children? Isn’t that an amount where you can look at a child and say “you are worth the investment.” We are not asking for an insurmountable amount. We are just asking for an investment in the future of our children and our city.

How Do We Talk About What Happens Next?

Ryan Davis

The conversation about how we return to school has already started and a common refrain is growing: we will not go back to what was.  Yet, if we are not intentional, the conversation itself will lead us back to the current way of doing things.  In The Politics of the English Language George Orwell cautioned, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”   The phrases and metaphors frequently used to talk about schools may build something new, but not something fundamentally different.  

In particular, conversations about “learning loss” and “falling behind” have appeared in a spate of recent pieces in major media outlets.  Such language emerges from a foundation that says the primary function of school is the accumulation of knowledge.  Paulo Freire referred to this as the Banking Model of education – teachers deposit facts and skills into passive students who are then judged on the balance of their accounts.  The langue informs a response: monitoring and filling knowledge accounts of students. The language provokes a sense of emergency and need to preserve the current order.  Many articles even include the (perhaps intentionally) fear-inducing term ‘covid slide’. 1 

The Banking model shapes our language. That language shapes how we think and thus act. Continuing Orwell, “….by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. “

The language of the Banking Model has so saturated our conversation that we accept the nonsensical as logical.  We talk about how many months or years students will be behind not as a direct measure of time missed, but as an odd and abstract measure of learning.   There is no concrete meaning of ‘three months of math’.     

Learning is not measured in units of time.  Learning happens spurts and sputters, regressions and false starts, leaps and skipped steps.  The process of becoming a passionate and competent reader is not a clearly delineated 13-year progression.  But, that is the framework that fits on the Banking foundation. It requires support and veneer of equating learning only with test scores.  

When we talk about “falling behind”, the language is immediately there – we must “catch up”.  The conversation begins to fill-in.  The vocabulary inevitably narrows to reading and math, and what testing is needed, and how time will be made (certainly at the sacrifice to other subjects).  There will likely be excitement and creative ideas, just as with a new coat of paint or rearranged room.  The Banking foundation of deliver-test-repeat still sits solidly underneath.  

Such remodeling is not new to education.  Innovative ways are constantly found to make the Banking process both enjoyable for students and justified through ‘rigor’.  New methods of assessment, remediation, scaffolding, etc… promise to make students’ accounts meet a minimum threshold (or at least appear to).  These artifices give the illusion that education has moved beyond the rows of desk and recitation of facts. But, they still sit squarely on a foundation that says school is primarily about the accumulation of academic facts and skills.  

By rebuilding and repairing on the current foundation, we will never end up with a fundamentally different type of school.  Which means we have to start by giving up our current language for talking about school.  Orwell writes:

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

What if we had the conversation about what happens next but couldn’t talk about classes? Or grading? Or Standards? Some may find that radical, but this conversation is already happening.  Yong Zhao recently wrote that the current crisis is a chance to let go of our current structures of scheduling and time, strictly delineated subjects, and age-based grouping.  Even before the current crisis, Education Reimagined published a 13-page vision for a Learner-Centric education that calls for competency-based approaches, contextualized and personalized learning, as well as learning that is socially embedded and open-walled.  

In fact, the conversation is fairly old. In the early 20th Century, Maria Montessori was advancing ideas like mixed-age classroom and learner-centered pedagogies.  Around the same time, John Dewey advanced the idea of learning as a primarily social process and encouraged an active and experiential learning through integrated disciplines rooted in the child’s interest.  In In Search of Deeper Learning (2019) Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine wrote about the power of the apprentice model of learning that has long existed in the workshops and the arts.  The foundation we are looking for is not new.  Yet these ideas have only flickered on margins of the school system.  

The Banking Model persists because of its use to those who already have power and position in society.  It is much easier to succeed in a system that rewards the accumulation of knowledge when that knowledge is culturally selected and coded to match your identity and experiences, when your time in school or ability to be present in school has not been impacted by trauma or significant life changes, and when your interest and talent align with the external goals and measures.  The Banking Model benefits a select few, and gives the illusion of a fair chance for all.  

The current crisis only brings to stark relief for everyone the inequities inherently produced by a Banking foundation.  So, we are seeing moments of relief, like states and colleges providing exemptions from standardized testing requirements.  There is now some empty space, but doesn’t mean we have changed our plans for it.  Many of the pieces concerned about “learning loss” cite a report by NWEA, the organization that also produces and sells MAP testing to schools.  If that space continues to be filled with the language of ‘learning loss’, we will likely see a push for more forms of testing to diagnose and help our kids ‘catch up’. 

But, what will matter most when we return will be not be assessing what facts and skills students still know.  What matters most will be knowing our kids. They will have been through trauma, some much more than others. They will have new questions about how the world works.  They will have new fears.  They will have developed new passions and talents.  Long term school closure certainly hurts students. How we talk about that informs whether we will make the foundational changes that will really help them.  

Our current language hinders a discussion that could create schools that are truly student centered.  Schools that are primarily about students becoming themselves, where learning experiences derive from the questions and passions of the students.  Schools that honor the natural, irregular pace of growth.  Schools whose central form and function are to cultivate a sense of well-being, independence, community, empowerment, and agency.  

There are few examples to point to of schools truly built on new ground.  In conversation especially it’s difficult, if not impossible, to point to a universally recognized model and say, “let’s build that.”  The most accessible first step is to change how we talk, to remove the language that constrains our thought to current ideas.  Quite literally: before a meeting make a list of words and phrases that describe school as is. Then, plan, talk, and dream without using them (or finding loophole synonyms).  It will require creativity and wrestling and failing.  It is a conversation that also can’t happen just between educators. 

Students must be partners in this conversation.  This means going beyond the token student committee member or student advisory group.  We must structure schools to have space to become what students want and need.  Students must be given more agency over what they learn.  That starts with students not being the topic of or providing input to a conversation, but students being equal participants and collaborators in the conversation about schools.  

Some students (and educators alike), especially those advantaged by the Banking Model, will have trouble imagining what a new type of school looks like.  Many will fear falling behind.  They too have been steeped in the language and metaphor of the Banking Model.  Just as we let go of our own attachment to the language of current foundation, we must also help them how to do the same.  If we can, we will be amazed at the schools we can create with them. 

1 The ‘covid slide’ narrative is similar to, and even based on, the “summer slide”.  The summer slide narrative also reduces learning to be solely about test scores. It has been criticized on conceptual grounds.  But even within a testing framework, current findings cast doubt on the methods and conclusions of popular understanding of summer learning loss.  Other work has even found gains in certain domains over the summer. Ultimately, the summer slide provides another example of how the language of the Banking Modeling shapes our thinking and thus our practice with schools. 

We Are Sad; No More In-Person School in Kentucky

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

We will no longer have in-person school in Kentucky. We will continue Non-Traditional Instruction for the remainder of the year. While we know this is is the right call, we are still sad.

Teachers have a reputation for loving snow days and breaks. The thrill of a random Tuesday off because Mother Nature decided to blanket our streets in snow is nothing like this. Snow days end. Breaks help our students and teachers recharge before continuing learning. We know when they are and how long they last. We can get Blessings in a Backpack sent home. The majority of students in JCPS qualify for free or reduced lunch. The worry about where and how they will be fed is very real.

This is immensely different. No one becomes a teacher because they hate work. No one becomes a teacher because they hate children. We love our profession. We love our kids. We miss them desperately. We find ourselves thinking about them and the things they’d say. We miss the end of year activities. We miss watching our students ending their careers with us; the fifth graders, the eight graders, and the seniors who will move on without the appropriate goodbyes.

We are still adjusting to an NTI-based life. We will continue to reach out to students and families in the months to come. With NTI comes an entirely new set of hurdles as we try to do our best to help our students and ease their anxiety and stress.

These are unprecedented times. We know that we have to adjust our lives and our profession. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get to grieve what we and our students have lost. We know this is the right call, but we also know the sadness that we feel is real and valid.

In the months to come after this, may we as a commonwealth reassess what education needs to look like. Learning is not measured in standardized assessments or specified seat minutes. When the time came to completely turn our profession upside down, teachers across the nation rallied to provide some level of normalcy to our students. None of the remote learning will ever replace the very real relationships formed in the classroom. None of the remote learning can replace the climate and culture that exists in a school building, from sports and dances to clubs and painted wall murals, school is more than a series of activities designed to measure academic growth. School is a home and a family. For countless students across Kentucky, and across America, school is safety. May we remember these lessons as we create a new normal in a post-Coronavirus world.

But for now, we can be sad. We just miss our kids.

COVID-19 Education Employee Call to Action

As school districts across the state are working to continue learning opportunities and instruction for Kentucky’s students, it is important for them to be able to support and maintain their staff.

Please call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-372-7181 and leave this message for all legislators:  

As your constituent and a concerned citizen of Kentucky, I am asking you to please remove current limits on emergency leave for education employees and give school districts the flexibility they need to address the Coronavirus crisis they are facing.  
Thank you!

Support HB340: A Salary Supplement for Qualified Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists

Katie Cohen

What is HB 340?

House Bill 340 will require local boards of education to provide an annual salary supplement to qualified Speech-Language Pathologists or Audiologists. The bill is bipartisan; sponsored by Representatives R. Huff, P. Pratt, and D. Schamore. So far this session, this bill has had 3 readings in the House and passed 95-0. The Senate received the bill on 2/12/2020. 

Why provide a salary supplement to SLPs and AUDs?

Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists based in schools are vital to improving the public education of students with communication impairments from early childhood through graduation. 

SLPs and AUDs are highly qualified professionals that should be recognized as such. They have the option to hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence aka “the triple C’s”, through the American Speech- Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). To earn their C’s, Speech- Language Pathologists and Audiologists must earn a Master’s degree from an accredited university, perform 1600 hours of supervised clinical experience, pass a nationally recognized exam, and earn 30 continuing education hours every 3 years. 

The Certificate of Clinical Competence for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists is similar, but not synonymous with the National Board Certification for Teachers. CCC and NBCT programs both encourage professional excellence. 

Have we seen this bill before?

Yes, during the 2010 KY legislative session, a bill was passed and subsequently signed into law by Governor S. Beshear known as the “Salary Supplement Bill”, HB 376. It states that school-based Speech- Language Pathologists and Audiologists possessing a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) may be given a salary stipend, equivalent to that which teachers earning National Board Certification receive, in the value of $2,000. The wording of the bill “permits” local school boards to pay a salary supplement, however, it does not allocate any funds nor require them to do so. 

The Kentucky Speech-Language-Hearing Association (KSHA), KSHA’s Advocacy Network (iKAN), lobbyists, Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists across the state have continued to advocate for the salary supplement. In the 2019 legislative session, the salary supplement legislation, HB 168, received three readings in the House and on 03/06/19 passed 98-0. It was then sent to the Senate Education committee and died there. 

Is this specific to KY?

Currently, five states provide a range of salary supplements to school- based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists who hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence. And three additional states provide a salary supplement only for SLPs. 

Salary supplements incentivize the best SLPs and AUDs to continue working in the public schools rather than leave for a role in the medical field where he or she could potentially earn double the pay. Salary supplements also encourage our best communication specialists to continue residing in the state of KY rather than moving to a state where he or she could receive higher pay. 

Support school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Support HB 340. 

You can call the LRC Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 to leave a message for your Senator or ALL Senators asking them to SUPPORT HB340.

Scholarship Tax Credits will not help us

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

Seventy three. That’s how many counties in Kentucky don’t have a private school. Do you know who has the most private schools? The Golden Triangle. You can drive along the southern border from Todd County all the way to Letcher County and not hit a single county with a private school. One of those seventy three counties without a private school is Martin County. Martin still does not have drinking water. HB350 would take money from the general fund and give it to the Golden Triangle, neglecting our rural counties and taking away funding our commonwealth needs to provide government services.

The entire premise of Scholarship Tax Credits, or Backdoor Vouchers, is that it offers families a choice. But is that true? In JCPS, we have students who are homeless. Who is completing the appropriate application and tax information for them? According to the JCPS Data Book, there are over five thousand students in the district who are homeless. That’s just the ones we know about. How is this tax credit going to help them? 

The abject poverty of homelessness is not the only financial barrier. Parents who are working two and three jobs and still living in poverty rarely have the time or the ability to access all the information necessary to fulfill the application requirements. If a parent is unable to fill out the information, how is the student meant to access this “opportunity” for education? According to the JCPS Data Book, over sixty percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Due to the magnitude, JCPS implemented entire schools as free lunch and breakfast several years ago. If those students find a way to apply, what will they eat? Are these private institutions prepared to offer students free breakfast and lunch in addition to these scholarships? For some of my students, the majority of their meals are from JCPS. For our neediest, their only meals are from JCPS.

How are they even going to get to the school in the first place? There is a lot of conflict surrounding the idea of bussing in JCPS, but the fact is that families rely on the bussing to get their child to school even if they live near their school. The entirety of bussing isn’t just bussing children from the West End to the East. Bussing in JCPS also includes families with no or limited transportation, students who have been accepted into selective programs, and students being bussed to a school in their own neighborhood. Will this tax credit include transportation provided by the school?

We have over 12,000 students who are identified as English as a Second Language or English Language Learners, are the schools who would benefit from this proposed tax credit going to have services to reach them? How many Bilingual Assistant Interpreters will be available at these schools? Do they have an interpreter for Kinyarawanda? That’s the fifth most spoken language in my school, behind English, Spanish, Arabic, and Swahili. What programs do they have in place for Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE)? Students from war-torn countries often have gaps in education that require special instruction and consideration. 

The JCPS Board of Education is currently looking at a proposal to end exiting in our selective schools. Even when exited from a selective school, students in JCPS are never expelled from our school system. Every child in our commonwealth has a right to an education. If these private institutions want to have tax dollars to provide education, does that mean that they will no longer kick students out of their school systems? Can a child have a rainbow cake for her birthday without being accused of committing “lifestyle offenses” that result in expulsion? How can we be sure that these students aren’t being kicked out purely because these private entities cannot meet the needs of the student?

We have very real concerns in Kentucky. The proposed legislation would take fifty million dollars of our biennium budget and put it into private schools that don’t have the rules, regulation, oversight, and transparency required of public schools. Eastern Kentucky was submerged under water and has been neglected for decades. We have had a series of miners deprived of pay. We have thousands of homeless children all across the state. We have an ongoing opioid crisis. We don’t have one cent that we don’t already need. If we have this money to invest in education, it needs to go to public education where we love and teach every child that comes to us no matter what. It’s clear that these credits aren’t intended to help our most needy. They’re designed to provide a coupon for families who already attend these schools.

In Defense of Open Doors

If one were to give an account of all the doors one has closed and opened, of all the doors one would like to re-open, one would have to tell the story of one’s entire life.” – Gaston Bachelard

Ryan Davis

There is a hallway that changed how I view teaching.  I mean that quite literally. The hallway is not a metaphor.  It is physical space with polished tiles and faded lockers and old paint.  The thing about space is that while we are constantly shaping it to function in accordance with our purposes and values, our spaces are constantly shaping us.   It is an infinite waltz with no clear lead or follow.  

This dance between our architecture and our way of being was made real to me by a hallway full of English teachers.  I am math teacher, but this was before the time that I really knew that what we do is not as much about subjects as it is about students.

One distinctive feature of this hallway was that its doors were almost always open.  And so through the hallway like a spine ran the verve and hum of life, even when it held no people.  The classrooms connected and alive to something bigger, the energy of each slipping out the open doorways.  A space that was more than a collection of individual rooms, but a community. 

It was a space that changed me because it so clearly changed students. The community of open doors fostered belonging and ownership that could be seen in students dipping in and out of rooms to grab a writing piece or book or just to connect for a brief second.  The architecture spoke with a welcome and invitation. It was a place made more fully theirs.  

As much as this is a love letter to hallway (or more so the people who made the hallway alive by choosing to open their doors), it is also an admonition of laws that requires teachers to keep their classroom doors closed and locked.  I know the horrific realities that motivate such laws because I know the images that I, and I’m sure most educators, too frequently find ourselves trying to push out of our heads. School safety raises serious and immediate questions.  And, our answers require a difficult self-interrogation as to whether they are actual solutions or merely responses to fear.    

Fear often disguises itself as pragmatism. It contrasts the ease of a solution with a scenario of severe risk — a closed and locked door protects us from an outside terror.  The simple resolution may be immediately comforting, but it is often incomplete. For instance, experts advocate that when possible the first and most desirable response to violence should be to flee the situation.  A closed door impedes the ability to escape quickly, even more so if the violence begins in a room with closed door. A closed and locked door could also prevent a child from entering a safe place.  

It is impossible to predict whether in a moment of mass terror one will be advantaged by being in a room where the door is opened or closed.  More importantly, such thinking remains rooted in fear and anxiety about the future that cannot help but manifest in the present.  

I don’t know with any certainty what confluence of factors conspire to turn a child toward such terrible violence.  Some have highlighted trauma and mental health. Others have identified bullying and ostracism as playing a significant role.  Then there are misogyny and white supremacy and other ideologies that normalize violence. While the influence and impact of each of these factors may vary, they share a common trait: they are only fed, and never solved, by isolation.  They are wounds that can only be identified and healed by building places of connection and belonging. They require community.   

When I picture that hallway now, with all its doors closed, I feel an immense sense of loss.  The hallway with closed doors is a shell. It feels cold. When I think of having the keep my own door closed and locked, I feel the same sense of loss, but also frustration.  Frustration that I cannot contribute to community that is edifying and empowering for my students – a bigger community that holds them up and closer, and ultimately makes them safer.

For now, fear has caused us to curl a little more inward. And, it is perhaps easy to dismiss a door as a small thing. Perhaps there are compromises to be struck like funding doors that lock from the inside so they can be kept open, but also quickly locked and closed without leaving the room.   I’m optimistic that educators can help lawmakers understand why these seemingly small things matter. The power of a community of open doors is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it. I am grateful that I have had that chance. I worry that students today do not.  

The opening or closing of doors transforms our space which in turn begins to shape us.  While educators will always work to create community where we can, our physical space can either limit the community we make or invite us to make more.  Open doors can make a school more than a series of rooms. Open doors connect classrooms to a larger vibrancy and sense of belonging – they compound the power of community, and all the benefits that come with it.  They make the space our students deserve.