Education measures receive legislative attention

By Adam Bowling

State Representative

Legislators gave a great deal of attention to addressing education issues brought to our attention by parents, students, and teachers last week.

One of the education-focused bills we passed is a bill that would help ease the transition to a new school for Kentucky’s foster children. HB 312 would expedite the transfer of the child’s confidential records between school districts and require more state collaboration with local school districts to help meet the child’s needs. Many schools struggle to help foster children because they simply do not have the information they need. This bill is a continuation of our mission to improve opportunities for our children in foster care and builds on the Foster Child Bill of Rights passed during the 2019 Regular Session.

The House also approved HB 340, legislation that lays the groundwork for attracting and keeping speech-language pathologists and audiologists in our public schools. Schools are struggling to fill positions in this field because they can only pay a fraction of what the private sector pays. This bill provides the framework for a salary supplement. When funding is available, the salary supplement will be available to districts that qualify. HB 340 has the support of the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation and the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

We also took an opportunity to honor our Family Resource and Youth Services Centers and the men and women who staff them. The bill, HB 241, designates the second Wednesday in February as Family Resource and Youth Services (FRYSC) day. It is just seven short lines, but HB 241 conveys the respect that the House has for this group of educators and the work they do in our public schools. A product of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1994, FRYSCs basically plug both students and families into a network of resources and support to ensure that children can focus on learning. While they are not classroom teachers, the work they do has a direct impact on how well our children do in school.

The House Committee on Education is preparing more legislation for House consideration. Last week, committee members approved legislation that would further expand the 529 educational savings plan uses. Under the provisions of House Bill 331, 529 educational savings plans could be used for tuition on any qualified education loan for the account’s beneficiary or sibling. If passed, 529 accounts could also pay for fees, books, supplies, and equipment for participation in any Department of Labor registered and certified apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships are driven by the needs of the job market and allow students to develop skills and prepare to enter the workforce. Examples include everything from mechanics to nursing aides. When they finish, they walk away with a nationally-recognized credential. We know that the traditional four-year college path is not for everyone. Good-paying careers should be equally available to those who want to pursue apprenticeships. This bill makes it easier to do just that.

House Education also passed legislation that would create the teacher promise zone scholarship fund. The measure, House Bill 20, would establish a student loan forgiveness program for individuals who serve as STEM and special education teachers in federally designated promise zones. The loan forgiveness program will be administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, and all costs associated with the program will be funded by creating a trust fund in the State Treasury to provide loan repayment. If passed into law, the trust fund created by HB 20 would accept state general fund appropriations, as well as gifts and grants from public and private sources.

We still have more than half of the session ahead of us, so I hope to continue reaching out to you through this legislative update. If you have any questions or comments about this session, I can be reached during the week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (EST) through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Adam.Bowling@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov and you can also follow me on Twitter @ABowlingKY.