Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists Vital to Education

Katie Cohen

Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists based in schools are vital to improving the communication of students from early childhood through graduation.  These unsung heroes are communication professionals who work with students who have communication disorders as well as students with multiple disabilities to give them equal access to public education.  Their work encompasses helping students gain communication skills that will boost their success in classroom activities, social interactions, literacy, and learning.  

Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists deserve to be recognized  as highly qualified professionals. Many of these professionals have earned a Certificate of Clinical Competence through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.  In order to complete this certification, they must earn a Masters degree from an accredited university, perform 1600 hours of supervised clinical experience, pass a nationally recognized exam, and earn 30 continuing education hours every three years.  This Certificate of Clinical Competence is similar, but not synonymous with the National Board Certification for Teachers. Both the Certificate of Clinical Competence and National Board Certification for Teachers are programs that encourage professional excellence, and successful attainment of these credentials signifies mastery in the candidate’s respective professional field.  

Currently, nine states provide a range of salary supplements to school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists who hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence.  For example, Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in Delaware public schools who hold their Certificate of Clinical Competency from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association receive a salary supplement equal to 6% of their annual salary.  These supplements are a means to attract highly qualified communication specialists to work in public education rather than working in the medical field where they could potentially earn double the pay. Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology is a high-need career in public schools, so in addition to having to compete against the private sector, there is stiff competition among states to attract talented professionals.  

During the 2010 KY legislative session, House Bill 376, also known as the Salary Supplement Bill, was passed and subsequently signed into law by Governor Steve Beshear. This law allows school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists possessing a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association to be given a salary stipend of $2000, which is equivalent to the stipend received by teachers earning National Board Certification.  This salary supplement is intended to help Kentucky attract and retain the best communication specialists to our public schools.  

Unfortunately, the Kentucky General Assembly passed the Salary Supplement Bill without providing funding for local districts to offer the stipends in the 2010 and 2012 budgets.  In 2014 funding for the stipend was included in the budget drafted by the Kentucky House of Representatives, but was then removed by the Senate. This important legislation remains unfunded to this day.  While the law allows local school boards to provide this stipend to qualified employees, it does not require them to do so. Without state funding, most districts have declined to offer the stipend. In the 2019 legislative session, Representatives Regina Huff, Larry Elkins, Kelly Flood, Ruth Ann Palumbo, and Phillip Pratt introduced House Bill 168, which would require local school boards to fund the annual supplement to qualified Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.  This bill passed unanimously out of the House, but died in the Senate.

The Kentucky Speech-Language Hearing Association,  along with their affiliated Kentucky Advocacy Network, and Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists across the state worked tirelessly during this legislative session to gain support for the supplemental salary stipend.  In recognition for the efforts, Governor Matt Bevin signed a proclamation designating May as Better Speech and Hearing Month in Kentucky. 

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, roughly one out of every twelve children ages 3 – 17 in the US suffers from a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing, but only 55% of those children receive intervention services from a Speech-Language Pathologist or Audiologist.  The services these professionals provide are essential to our students’ growth, learning, and well-being. It is crucial for our legislature and our local school boards to fund salary stipends for highly qualified Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in order to attract and retain the best and brightest practitioners to Kentucky’s public schools.  

Please consider taking a moment of your time to reach out to your legislators by phone, email, or face-to-face in support of school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Ask legislators to include funding in the budget to follow through with the commitment made to school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists by the Kentucky legislature in 2010.

Visit http://www.lrc.ky.gov/ to find your Senator and Representative.

Send an email.

Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-372-7181 and dictate your message to a friendly operator.

Educators want to #CloseTheCamps

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

The National Educators Association held its annual Representative Assembly this past week in Houston, Texas. The location meant that educators from across the country found themselves near a troubling reality in America – the child detention centers. As the country debates the semantics of whether these are actually concentration camps (they are), educators joined together to march for “Education, Not Separation” on Independence Day. 

In years marred by educators being told to stick to educating and stay out of politics by naysayers, teachers have chosen to continue to use their voices to fight for children and their futures. When the safety and well-being of children is at stake, education professionals will always band together to fight and march for what is right.

The concentration camps at the border will no doubt affect education for decades to come. Children who have been traumatized have a harder time learning than their peers. The type of trauma being described within these facilities will no doubt have a lasting effect on these children. These children need to be integrated into the American school system. When they do, they will need to have special instruction.

Many of us have had students who have spent time in detention centers. After making the arduous trip, the language barrier is not the only obstacle students face. A large number of students fit the label SIFE – Students with Interrupted Formal Education. Due to violence or war, formal education can be interrupted for months or years, causing different learning problems for students immigrating in other ways. 

From NEA Today Facebook

We don’t know the ramifications of combining this type of trauma with SIFE. Students in Kentucky are guaranteed a free, public education through the age of 20. It is likely that these children would need longer, more sustained supports. What we do know is that the conditions they are being kept in is not helping. The act of separating them from their caregivers and then leaving them in devastating conditions is abhorrent. Removing the educational aspect of this dire situation, we as educators and advocates for children know this isn’t right. The camps must be closed and the children need to be reunited with their rightful caregivers. The world is watching us, and so is history. 

Beshear, Coleman Better Serve Kentuckians

Jason Starr Nelson

Most of us Kentuckians must rise early. The days are long, sometimes hard, sometimes blissful, but always meaningful. We spend our lives serving those we love – our wives, husbands, children, extended family, and dearest friends. Kentuckians are bonded through sweat, tears, and laughter. When our neighbors fall on hard times, we pick them up. When we find ourselves on a knee, there is usually a hand when we look up. 

Beshear/Coleman Campaign Photo

For some Kentuckians, November brings a tough decision. However, Kentuckians have an opportunity to extend its benevolence from Pike to Fulton counties. Kentuckians have a chance to change course and progress toward a better day.

Since 2015, something’s been amiss. An outsider who demands so much of us, takes from us, scolds us, and offers little to nothing in return has led our state. Perhaps this is where our anxiety about this election truly lies. We know what’s right. Which is why so many Kentuckians find comfort in the candidates whose families’ have resided in our commonwealth for generations.

Like many of us, Jacqueline Coleman coached our kids. As an educator, she taught our children. She founded a non-profit to give back to Kentucky and her home of Mercer County, where her family has resided for five generations. She experienced what we all have. She’s experienced the highs and lows of Bluegrass living. 

Photo from Coleman's Twitter
Coleman talks with a fellow educator

Coleman is the role model of which so many Kentuckians seek. She’s an assistant principal at Nelson County High School and helps empower our state’s women to excel through her non-profit Lead Kentucky. She wants to help create a world-class public education system and to uplift rural Kentucky. She will give a voice to those who feel shut out, but refuse to back down, which is why she will be a great Lieutenant Governor, and a great advisor to our next governor, Andy Beshear.

Andy Beshear’s record speaks for itself. Put his last name aside for a moment, and you will find a Kentuckian who attended public schools like most of us and an Attorney General who has fought relentlessly for teachers and against those who fueled our opioid epidemic, who flooded our state with pills and rogue doctors and drug traffickers.

Photo from Beshear's Twitter
Beshear walking in 4th of July Parade in Taylor County

It was Beshear who defeated harmful legislation in court, halting the sewer pension bill in its tracks, preventing $18 million in cuts to universities and community colleges, has helped secure the testing of every Kentucky rape kit, launched Scam Alerts, the state’s first direct text scam warning system, where he has signed up 24,000 seniors and returned $2 million that was stolen.

Beshear and Coleman have Kentuckians’ best interests at heart. They know what it means to be public servants and to give more than one receives. For the past four years, we’ve seen cuts and more cuts. We’ve seen the well-off become more well-off, while the working class carries more of the burden.

Kentuckians must stop accepting less and less. We deserve affordable health care. Beshear is fighting to keep 1.3 million Kentuckians covered by not allowing insurers to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. He wants to prevent thousands of families from being thrown off the Medicaid program.

Kentuckians deserve good-paying jobs that are only created through increased demand, not the lie of corporate tax breaks. He understands increasing wages, innovation, and investment in public education can create a thriving job market in our state.

Beshear and Coleman will fight corruption. They believe in term limits, transparency, and will require all elected officials to release tax returns, and banning contractors from giving gifts to public officials.

They will fight for affordable college, inclusiveness, and to address climate change. Beshear and Coleman will seek new revenue through expanded gaming and Medical Marijuana. Beshear will bring an end to Right-to-Work, and strengthen unions that contribute to higher wages and better benefits. Unlike those who want to cut veteran’s benefits, Beshear has a plan to increase job-skills training for Kentucky’s 300,000 veterans. 

We’ve sacrificed enough as a state and it’s time to elect those who have our interests at heart and not their own and that of special interests. It’s time to return to our roots and do what we know is right.

Bevin’s History of Exclusion

Dear Governor Bevin,

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

Today I approach you, not as a teacher, but as a constituent. I want to know why you have staked your governorship on an outright retreat from transparency.

On December 29, 2015, you began your reign as Governor with a meeting about education, specifically charter schools. Rather than welcoming all voices, you barred advocates for public education, including parents and teachers, from attending the meeting. 

In a move mirroring your original charter meeting, you held a meeting on April 17, 2019, this time with President Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to discuss the future of education in Kentucky. The problem was that you invited not a single public school educator. You even barred a group of teenage journalists from a Kentucky public school. Instead you included pro privatization and pro charter advocates while resolutely removing the voices of those who interact with education every day. When questioned on the exclusion of Kentucky educators, you retorted that the people present cared about children. Just one more careless jab at people you refuse to speak to.

Throughout your time as governor you have taken a radical approach to barring and silencing those who speak against you. When met with opposition on social media, you blocked thousands of accounts, barring them from interacting with you as constituents

Governor Bevin, this not how a democratic republic is meant to work. You have an obligation to serve the people of this entire commonwealth, not just the 511,374 Kentuckians who voted for you. With a voter turnout of just 30.6%, you earned a mandate of 16% of the entirety of Kentucky voters, which was just over 3.2 million during your election. For a man voted in on apathy, you have clung to the notion that you know better than the rest of us and refused to invite valuable contributions from experts and constituents. You are our governor. We have a right to talk to you and interact with you and try to help you make the best decisions for our commonwealth. It is your legal and moral duty to ensure our voices are heard. Rather than embracing your office, you have turned your back on anyone who offers words you view as criticism.

Now we find that that behavior is not limited to just your constituents with whom you disagree, but also your own Lieutenant Governor, Jenean Hampton. In a fashion reminiscent of middle school drama, Kentucky has again been dragged into the national spotlight as your party splinters over the firing of Lt. Gov. Hampton’s aide. 

For a man who has polled as the least popular sitting governor, perhaps you should try opening doors instead of closing them. It’s difficult to gain faith and trust when you continually lock us out. Being a member of public office means dealing with those who disagree with you.

In years marred by distrust, you continue to silence us and halt our participation in our own democracy. We have no trust in you or members of your party. On March 29, 2018, SB151, the so-called Sewage Bill, was passed in an unconstitutional manner. Nearly a year later, you answered a question about whether you’d call a special session with “Not a chance. Not a chance … Like Charlie Brown and the football with Lucy? I mean, seriously.” And yet here we are with a special session being promised by you. Why should we have any faith in you? You have shown us time and time again who you are: a bully who will put the wants of the few above the needs of the many; a man from outside our commonwealth who bars and lambastes Kentuckians; a person more interested in counting the times his name appears in print rather than representing us with the dignity and decorum demanded from your office.

For the rest of us in the voting public in Kentucky, four years of Governor Matt Bevin was already too many. As we move forward as a commonwealth, we need to start making decisions about what is best for us. It’s time to engage and be active. He has shown us exactly who he is the entire time. He shows no signs of changing and doesn’t desire to. It’s up to us to change.

I Am Not A Protester

Brian Hundley

Pike County Teacher

I am not a protestor.  I WANT to live a quiet life.  I had been uninvolved in the worries of bureaucracy.  “Let the bigwigs in Frankfort handle it, they will take care of teachers because we take care of kids.” That was always my mantra.  But as more and more information began spiraling out of control about our pension crisis, I began to see that was not the case.

For 15 years, I have enjoyed my career as a teacher.  However, these last few years have been grueling. Not because of the workload; I have accepted that changes happen and more is required. Not in the lack of cost of living pay increases; our family is making it when others in our community struggle. I have been thrown into this upheaval because the institution that once valued my profession as honorable, has now turned its back on me and others like me and are trying to strip away promises of a secure future.  This is unacceptable and troubling.  

This caused me and a group of my colleagues in Pike County to take action.  It started out as a Facebook group called Pike County Strong.  We found ourselves at the tip of the spear of a revolution.  Very quickly, we had high ranking officials come and meet with us directly and request our input on how to get other groups to unite and come together.  Other groups began popping up across the state like wildfire. It led to groups such as this, ordinary people stepping out of our comfort zone to fight for each other, our students, and futures. Both theirs and ours. A fight all over the 120 counties of this Commonwealth that we all hold so dear. 

I am not a protester, but have found through this I am a defender of what is right, a unifier of those that think their voices are too small, and a believer in the truth that a great education should be a right of everyone, not just those that can be accepted at a charter school.  

I didn’t desire these roles.  However, when you see that your livelihood and the future of your family rests in the balance, a change in you happens.  You believe that you can make a difference. Many of our teachers across Kentucky are beginning to understand that very truth. Many, like me, don’t seek the role of protester, advocate, or defender.  Nevertheless, here we are. The most important roles we play now are simple. Supporter. Educator. Voter. These come more naturally to most of us.  

Now is the time that all of our efforts can lead to true change.  We have to take a stand. Together. The price is too high for anything less.

Tips for Contacting Your Legislators


Nicole George

Nicole George Metro Councilwoman – District 21
Your electeds need to hear from you.  Far too often legislators receive either little outreach from constituents or hear from folks who aren’t fully representative of those they serve.  Below are some tips for ensuring your outreach is most impactful.

#1- Nothing is more important than a constituent!  First and foremost direct your outreach to your legislator.  While all outreach is important, the voice of a constituent often carries the most weight.

#2- Relationships matter.  In a world where there is far more work than can be accomplished we’re often compelled to go the extra step for those with whom we understand and have a connection.  Be strategic with any attempts to publicly shame and understand its consequences.

#3- Keep it simple.  One message per contact.  Bullet points are friends and the fewer words the better.  If a complicated issue can’t be communicated succinctly then request a meeting or call.

#4- Let your elected know what specific action you’d like them to take, particularly when it comes to problem solving.

#5- Remember that just because your outreach didn’t achieve its intended result didn’t mean it wasn’t important.  It does have the potential to influence the bigger picture and form a connection. 

What You Can Do to Be a Teacher Ally to LGBTQ+ Students

Sam Berlin and Tammy Berlin

Earlier this month we shared with you one educator’s story about his experience being a teacher who is out of the closet in Kentucky.  Today my kiddo and I would like to share some tips with you for making sure that your school and your classroom give LGBTQ+ students the support they need to learn, grow, and thrive.  

Why is it important to be an ally to LGBTQ+ students?  

As educators, we want the best for our students.  We spend countless hours planning engaging learning experiences, individualizing instruction, and designing interventions to make sure that every student will be successful.  But for many LGBTQ+ students, the secret sauce that helps them grow and thrive isn’t in how well the teacher plans and delivers instruction, it’s in a school environment that respects them and values their identity, and in the caring and supportive relationships they have with teachers and their peers in their school community.  According to the most recent National School Climate Survey, we as educators have plenty of opportunities to improve school climate and become more supportive of our LGBTQ+ students.   

Recent data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that LGBTQ+ students are more than twice as likely as their peers to experience bullying at school and online.  Bullying puts students at increased risk for mental illness, suicidal ideation, drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior, and decreased academic success.  Students who are bullied at school are 10% more likely to miss school because of safety concerns, and may be at increased risk of becoming enmeshed in the juvenile justice system.  

How can we make the school community a safe environment for our LGBTQ+ students?

Even though our LGBTQ+ students face a number of threats at school, we as educators have the power to make a difference for them.   Here are a few steps you can take in your classroom, your school, and your district.

Enact policies at the local level to make school a safe and respectful learning environment for all students.  

Make sure your district and school have policies for gender-neutral facilities usage and equal access to school activities and events.  The courts have upheld a student’s right to use the restroom for the gender that they identify with.  In addition, more and more schools and districts are enacting policies that allow trans students to participate on sports teams that correspond to their identified gender.  Some schools have instituted policies ensuring that students are able to participate in proms and other school functions with their same-sex partners. In order to ensure that your school and your district is fully inclusive of all students, it is important to pass policies that protect LGBTQ+ students’ rights to fully utilize the school campus and participate in school functions in a way that is inclusive to their gender identity and sexual orientation. You can find model policy language for schools and districts on the GLSEN website.

Make sure your students have access to a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club at school.  

According to the National School Climate Survey, LGBTQ+ students who have a GSA in their school report hearing fewer homophobic remarks at school, experience less harassment and assault because of their gender expression, are more likely to report harassment and assault when it occurs, are less likely to feel unsafe because of their gender expression or sexual orientation, are less likely to miss school because of safety concerns, and feel a greater sense of belonging to their school community.  

“Flag” yourself as a supportive educator.  

Students feel safer at school and are more successful overall when they have trusted adults who support them.  Identify yourself as an ally by displaying a pride flag or an ally sticker on your door, or you can signal to students in your class by sharing your pronouns with them and inviting them to share their preferred pronouns with you.  

Call your students by their correct names and pronouns.  

Speaking of pronouns, it is important to honor your students’ identities by using their correct pronouns and their correct name.  Trans students may have a name that they prefer to be called that reflects the gender that they identify with. When people call them by their “dead name” instead of their correct name, it can perpetuate trauma that they may be experiencing due to people not acknowledging them for who they are. Mistakes can happen and if you slip up, apologize to the student as soon as possible. Don’t try to excuse the mistake, just promise to be better.  

Be aware of students who are in distress.  

School can be overwhelming for students who are bullied or who are marginalized because of their gender or sexual identity.  In addition, many of these students face additional problems and trauma at home and outside of school. These students may act out or seem withdrawn or unengaged at school due to the stress that they are under.  It is important for teachers to notice these students and direct them to help when needed.

Let students see themselves in the curriculum.

It’s important for students to see themselves in the curriculum.  Integrating LGBTQ+ history, literature, and art into your curriculum boosts students self-esteem, and increases positive interactions between LGBTQ+ students and their peers.   

You can find other information and ideas to help you and your colleagues be LBGTQ+ allies at the GLSEN Safe Space Tool Kit.

What Is a PUBLIC Charter School?

Brent McKim

With the election of a Governor just around the corner, the issue of whether or not the state should allocate General Fund revenue to fund “public” charter schools is a major campaign issue.  But are charter schools actually public schools? Certainly, under our current statute adopted by Kentucky General Assembly, charter schools would be public in the sense that they would be funded by public tax dollars.  But is public funding all it should take for a school to be considered public, or should the citizens of the Commonwealth have the right to expect certain standards of public transparency, oversight, and accountability for both finances and decision-making to be met if their tax dollars are to be used to pay for these schools before the state begins to fund them?  And do all public schools share civic responsibilities to the community beyond just academic instruction? Based on the current statute and how charter schools operate in most other states, these questions lead to a number of serious concerns.

Are charter schools transparent in their use of public funds?  This is an issue in a number of states because some of the “government red tape” from which charters have been “freed” includes laws assuring financial transparency.  As a result, arrangements have emerged in which individuals who own “not-for-profit” charter schools also own for-profit school management companies and real estate companies.  The owners of these deregulated charter schools, which do not have to follow competitive bidding for goods and services as traditional public schools do, then sign no-bid contracts with the owner’s for-profit management company and lease their buildings with no-bid leases from the owner’s real estate company, and so on.  

Consider this example reported by the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Imagine Schools Inc., the nation’s largest charter school operator, runs six charter schools in St. Louis. Together, their performance on state standardized exams is worse than any school district in Missouri.  Nevertheless, those schools are generating millions of dollars for Imagine and a Kansas City-based real estate investment company through real estate arrangements ultimately supported with public education money. The deals are part of a strategy that has fueled Imagine’s national expansion. In most cases, Imagine sells its buildings to another company that leases them back to Imagine, with the schools themselves shouldering the rent with public funds.”

All this is perfectly legal and very profitable, but is this how we want publicly-funded schools to be able to operate?  Some states, including Kentucky, have (to varying degrees) decided the answer is no. To our Commonwealth’s credit, our statute requires that any third party entering into a contract of $10,000 or more with a charter school to comply with open records regarding the details of the expenditure and to make public financial disclosures.

Are charter schools held accountable for academic results?  In most states, charters are authorized to operate for a number of years by a public authorizing board.  In theory, this authorizing board may not renew the school’s charter if the school is not effective, but a study by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers found that few charters are actually denied renewals by these boards that are often comprised of charter operators and advocates.  And most charters that are shuttered are closed for financial or legal reasons, rather than poor performance. 

While Kentucky’s statute requires charter schools to take the same assessments as other public schools, the fine print in the law allows charter schools to evade the consequences other public schools are subject to, based on the results of these assessment.  Instead, charter schools only have to satisfy the requirements specified in their authorizing agreements. And if that starts to become difficult, the charter operator can demand that the authorizer reopen and renegotiate those requirements. If the authorizer refuses, the charter can appeal to the state and seek to have the state force the authorizer to revise the expectations for the charter at any point.

Do charter schools have reasonable public oversight? Once charter schools receive their charter to operate, in many states there is nothing akin to a publicly-elected school board from the community that provides citizen oversight and decision-making for the school.  Instead, the school answers only to its owner or operator. Parent input panels may be offered in schools, but these typically do not have decision-making authority or the ability to review financial operations.  

In Kentucky’s case, there is very little public oversight of charter schools.  SBDM laws do not apply to charters, and instead of democratically elected oversight boards, like public school boards, charter schools get to appoint their own boards and the members of those boards do not have to come from school stakeholders or even from the same community, plus teachers in the school are expressly prohibited from serving on these appointed boards.

Are the employees of “public charter schools” public employees?  The answer to this question is typically no.  Although their salaries are ultimately paid for by public tax dollars, charter school employees who work for charter operators are typically not considered public employees, which has led to significantly higher educator turnover in charter schools.  For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that teacher turnover is three times higher in charter schools than regular public schools. A study by the University of Washington found that 71% of charter school leaders plan to leave within five years. This high rate of turnover keeps labor costs low for charter operators, but does not afford students access to experienced teachers.

Kentucky’s statute is no exception; however, charter employees would have the option to participate in the same retirement and health insurance system as other public school teachers.

Do charter schools contribute to a respectful democratic society? Traditionally, most students in American communities have attended a school overseen by an elected school board that sought to find a common-ground approach to curriculum, discipline, and activities that reflected community values.  Attending these public schools helped students participate in their community’s wonderful richness of diversity in race, religion, ethnic heritage, income, and much more. This experience helped young people learn about differences, and it prepared them for life in our diverse democratic society.  

There is a growing concern that the proliferation of independent charter schools is contributing to a much more isolated and homogeneous educational experience for young people that does not prepare them for the diverse and challenging world they will experience as adults.

There is also concern that, because parents self-select the charter schools for their children, the curriculum, discipline, and activities at these schools can drift far from shared community values.  For example, consider the group of North Carolina charter schools where ProPublica reports that instead of the traditional Pledge of Allegiance, “Staff and students pledge to avoid errors that arise from ‘the comfort of popular opinion and custom,’ ‘compromise’ and ‘over-reliance on rational argument.’ Students must vow ‘to be obedient and loyal to those in authority, in my family, in my school, and in my community and country, So long as I shall live.’”

If the Jefferson County Board of Education proposed such a change, the community that is paying the taxes for the public schools would very likely object to such a use of their tax dollars.  But no one objects in North Carolina because only parents who share this ideology send their children to these charter schools.  Again, this is perfectly legal there, but does this serve the civic mission we expect from our public schools?

Kentucky’s law does little to nothing to guard against this sort of evasion of the norms that taxpayers rightfully expect the public schools they pay for with their tax dollars to follow. 

Most of the answers to these questions should raise serious concerns for Kentuckians.  The good news for charter advocates is that all of these issues could potentially be addressed through properly crafted amendments to our current charter school statute.  

Local community oversight, accountability, and adherence to shared community values could be protected by making locally-elected school boards the sole authorizers of and ultimate decision-makers for charter schools.  Employees of public charter schools could be designated by the law to be public school employees. Open meetings laws, freedom of information laws, financial disclosure laws, and other public sunshine laws could be explicitly applied without minimum thresholds to both charter schools and any third-party providers with which they contract.  

Unfortunately, the strongest advocates for charter schools often share such a deep-seated anti-government perspective that they are resistant to such public accountability and oversight provisions.  

As the debate over charter school fund in Kentucky continues, we can only hope that the discussion will go beyond just whether or not to fund them, and will include critical issues like these, to insure that if we do fund “public charter schools” they will truly be public and serve the public’s interests.

We Can’t Vouch for Tuition Tax Credits

Jason Starr Nelson

During last year’s Kentucky General Assembly, House Bill 205 sparked a good deal of controversy. This bill would give families a tax credit for private school tuition.

Proponents of this type of legislation will argue it provides more choice for families and allow lower-income children access to a private education. The idea of tax credits and vouchers, which are direct payments to private schools, are mostly championed by Republicans, but they have carried Democratic support in other states. Unfortunately, those touting tax credits and vouchers have either been conned or are blatantly lying to the public.

Vouchers are a near impossible sale in Kentucky thanks to our state Constitution, but tax credits are a real possibility. So, why not give lower-income families the chance to send their children to private schools by offering them a tax break? There are many states that can answer that question.

In other states, tax credits have funneled money to private schools through tax credits and deductions. Under tax credits, an income tax bill is directly reduced. So if you owe $4,000 in taxes and get a $500 tax credit, you pay only $3,500. Under a deduction, your taxable income is reduced.

Kentucky’s version of tax credits, HB 205, failed last session. It would have given Kentuckians and dollar-for-dollar tax break up to $1 million. Supporters like John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, and Gary, Houchens, a Western Kentucky University and a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, and also served on the board for EdChoice Kentucky, couldn’t understand the backlash the bill received.

What they couldn’t understand is why we would allow state leaders and special interest to pick our pockets. To begin, if the bill would have passed, it was estimated it would cost Kentucky roughly $50 million annually in revenue. Illinois implemented tax credits in 2000. It cost the state $65.9 million in revenue and legislators responded by cutting $64.5 from the public education budget.

In Illinois, 46 percent of tax credits went to hose making more than $80,000, and 20 percent went to those making $60,000 to $80,000. Only 3 percent of tax credits went to those living in poverty. Under Kentucky’s proposed law, tax breaks would go to those making donations to private schools, meaning low-income families who cannot make a donation would see zero benefit. Meanwhile, wealthier Kentuckians would see large tax breaks, less state revenue means cuts to the budget, and let’s face it, that means public education cuts, sending a negative ripple effect throughout the state.

In Indiana, their voucher system is said to benefit $35,000 students, who received $154 million in tax money in 2017. However, half of those children had never attended public schools.

Then there is the near unanimous research. According to researchers from the University of Virginia, among many others, low-income students don’t benefit from attending private schools. When the researchers controlled for household income of those students who had attended private school, there was no noticeable difference in performance from their public-school counterparts. The study also found this applied regardless of where the student lived – rural or urban areas.

Bottom line is, America has been conned, state-by-state, since the early 1990s, through charter-school initiatives, voucher programs, and tax credits. These programs are social-welfare for the wealthy, and the data overwhelmingly shows they harm lower-income children. Ironically, it also leaves the dwindling middle class with fewer options – an underfunded and not-so great public school or an expensive private school that breaks the bank.

During the 2020 legislative session, some version of a tax credit bill and a charter bill will come up and it’s vital the general public understand the dangers of this type of legislation. America has 30 years of evidence proving these programs are social-welfare for the wealthy and detrimental to the middle class and lower-income Americans. We can’t follow the same path of so many other states, who have started reversing these trends.

Kentucky is always last to the table, willing to accept scraps. However, this is one instance being last to the table should benefit us, because we’ve seen the poison eaten by other states. Don’t drink the Kool Aid.

We Have to Fix Poverty

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

The Atlantic published a piece from Nick Hanauer titled “Better Public Schools Won’t Fix America” this summer. The article was widely shared among educators. In it, Hanauer talks about his work to fund charter schools and other concepts that public school educators know don’t work. He comes to the conclusion that he was wrong. Throwing money into schools won’t fix education because the problem is actually poverty.

Hanauer posits that rather than poor economy being the results of poor education, it’s actually the opposite. The economy and income of families influence education. He’s absolutely right. Every teacher will tell you without a doubt that socio-economic status is the number one indicator of potential success of a child. Are there people who succeed despite economic disadvantages? Absolutely. The problem is that they are the outliers, statistically. While education is meant to be the great equalizer, poverty persists despite it because we are not working to correct the systemic causes of poverty.

The Atlantic had another article, one that might seem to be unrelated to education. The title of that article is “Escaping Poverty Requires Almost 20 Years with Nearly Nothing Going Wrong.” In the 2017 article, the author explains that education is a pathway to breaking the bonds of poverty, but it requires setting up a plan beginning in early childhood. This means that the parents of the child need access and knowledge of how to navigate early education, which usually isn’t free, and then spend nearly two decades without layoffs, a broken down vehicle, death, disease, and any of the other obstacles that life will throw at them.

If we want to fix education and make it truly equitable, it’s time that we understand the fix will not happen inside the walls of a school building. Dedicating funding to public education is important and we should still strive to provide the best, most equitable education to all students. We also need more support to make sure families aren’t living below the poverty line, despite having multiple incomes. We need to fix our healthcare system so that a single illness or accident does not doom a family to decades entrenched in poverty. We need the wealthiest of our citizens and corporations to provide their fair share of taxes to support the goals we have as a state and a nation.

Ensuring access to quality education is still absolutely important. We have a moral imperative as a state and a nation to strive to improve and innovate as educators, as well as invest in education for the good of our citizens. The pursuit of equitable education for everyone is not sufficient in itself to help those most in need. Children need to be safe, fed, and to have a home. Children need to have access to healthcare. Children need to not be punished for the perceived sins of their parents. No parent chooses poverty for their children. It is a monstrous cycle that affects both rural and urban families.

We have to stop looking at education through the lens of competition. The systematic ranking of schools only exacerbates the problems created by poverty. Rankings become a self-fulfilling prophecy as schools with students who are most in need are labelled as underperforming. In reality, there are no “good” or “bad” schools. There are just schools with students who have different needs. Education is a cornerstone of our democracy. Without accessible education, it’s impossible for us to grow and keep pace with the rest of the world. We can only do that if we work together.