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Ky. has a teacher shortage. Have lawmakers done anything to fix it?

Alix Mattingly

A staffing crisis in Kentucky classrooms has been front and center this legislative session. Here’s a roundup of bills lawmakers advanced that might help, or hurt.

Kentucky lawmakers have spent a lot of time talking about the state’s teacher shortage this legislative session. So what did they do to address the issue?

Jefferson County Teachers’ Association president Brent McKim said some bills around licensure and student behavior may aid schools in hiring and retention; but other measures limiting academic freedom could make the state’s teacher shortage even worse.

“On the whole, collectively, I don't think they passed legislation, when you put it all together, that will help,” the teachers’ union president said.

The Republican-led legislature passed a flurry of bills ahead of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s 10-day veto period. That allows them to override any vetoes when they return for the final two days of the session later this month.

Lawmakers will have another opportunity to pass bills in those final two days, but they won’t be able to reverse any more vetoes at that point. They’re required to close the books on the session after 11:59 p.m. on March 30.

Measures teachers say might help

Low-cost teacher recruitment strategies: House Bill 319, which is awaiting final passage in the Senate, is the more affordable “fix” to Kentucky's teacher shortage Geared towards assisting recruitment and hiring, as opposed to retention, the bill would sign Kentucky onto a multistate agreement that allows teachers to get licensed more quickly when they move between states.

Jefferson County Teachers Association president Brent McKim told LPM News the jury is out on whether the agreement would bring more teachers in, or lead more teachers to leave for other states in the licensure agreement.

“How do we know whether that's going to be a net positive or net negative? Or is it going to be more of an influx than an outflux?” McKim said.

HB 319 would also direct the Kentucky Department of Education to create a statewide job portal for school staff positions and mandates the Council for Postsecondary Education start a marketing campaign to promote the teaching profession.

The measure also has a provision bound to be welcomed by current teachers: It removes the requirement that teachers get notes notarized in order to take a sick day.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. James Tipton of Taylorsville touted the measure as a “first step” towards solving the teacher shortage, highlighting that it would be much less expensive than pay increases floated by Gov. Beshear.

Making it easier to boot disruptive students from class: Surveys suggest that a pandemic-related increase in disruptive student behavior is driving some teachers out of the classroom, along with the high stress and relatively low pay of the profession.

House Bill 538, which is on its way to the governor’s desk, would make it easier for schools to expel “chronically disruptive students,” or move them to remote learning for a year or more.

Supporters of the bill say it would give teachers more control over their classrooms.

McKim said most teachers will appreciate a provision in HB 538 that allows them to bar disruptive students from their classroom for the rest of the day.

“We hear a lot of complaints about students being totally disruptive, they send the student to the office, and then they come back shortly thereafter, like five or ten minutes later,” he said. “And it sends a message…that there's not really any consequence for the bad behavior.”

However, McKim said not all teachers support the bill.

“Others will be concerned that it will lead to more ‘push out’ and disproportional discipline based on race or socioeconomic level of the student,” he said.

Like most districts, JCPS disproportionately uses discipline against Black students and students with disabilities. Though Black students make up 37% of students in JCPS, last school year Black students made up 68% of JCPS’ out-of-school suspensions.

Extending emergency certifications: Senate Bill 49, from Elizabethtown Republican Sen. Matthew Deneen, allows teachers who have a certain alternative or emergency certifications to renew their license for five years, up from three.

Teachers who get an alternative certification may not have a degree in education, or may be in the process of working on one.

The bill passed out of both legislative chambers and is now being considered by Gov. Beshear.

Measures teachers say might hurt recruitment

Speech restrictions: The legislature passed several bills that aim to restrict classroom speech, especially around gender, gender identity and sexuality.

Conservative proponents of the measures say they are meant to “protect children” from supposed leftist indoctrination, and from being “sexualized.”

Opponents say the measures aim to erase LGBTQ identities from classroom environments and seek to censor teachers’ rights to free speech.

Senate Bill 150, passed in a late-hour scramble before the veto period, targets multiple LGBTQ-inclusive school policies. It allows teachers to misgender trans and nonbinary students and prevents trans students from using bathrooms that match their gender. Drawing on language from so-called “Don’t Say Gay” provisions passed in Florida and other states, SB 150 also prohibits instruction at all grade levels “that has a goal or purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

McKim said these provisions will create fear and uncertainty for educators over what they can and cannot say in the classroom.

“It's creepy to feel like you can't even say something supportive of a student without, you know, potentially getting in trouble for it,” he said.

Then there is Senate Bill 5, which would make it easier for parents to complain about books,instructional materials or school events they find “obscene.”

McKim said measures like this limit academic freedom and pointed to a 2022 survey by Education Week, which showed 53% of teachers would be less likely to stay in a teaching job or seek a job in a state that had restrictions on classroom discussions about race or gender.

“I think to teachers that feels like an infringement on their academic freedom, and it feels like censorship, and that makes them less likely to teach in a state,” he said.

Targeting teachers unions: Teachers union leaders are not happy about Senate Bill 7, which passed out of the legislature on Thursday and would make it impossible for teachers unions and associations to collect dues or donations through public payroll deduction.

Republican lawmakers who brought the bill lamented that JCTA’s political action committee spent upwards of $700,000 backing incumbents in the 2022 Jefferson County Board of Education election.

McKim said the move shouldn’t hurt JCTA financially since the organization already has agreements that allow them to pivot toward using an electronic funds transfer system, rather than payroll deduction. But he said the measure unfairly targets teachers associations while leaving conservative-leaning organizations like police unions untouched.

“When you are intentionally and selectively trying to harm the teachers union, you are trying to silence the voice of educators. And I think that that is off-putting,” McKim said.

What didn’t make it?

The GOP-led General Assembly didn’t take up Gov. Beshear’s proposalto provide teachers with a 5% pay raise.

“That's the elephant in the room. They could have had a meaningful pay rise,” McKim said, noting the state is running a record budget surplus.

“They have the funds available to do that. So that's a very straightforward thing.”

Low pay is a top deterrent for recruitment and retention cited by educators and those considering entering the profession. A study from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute suggests teachers make 77 cents on the dollar compared to professionals with similar levels of education.

Lawmakers gave all state employees except teachers raises last year. Many educators viewed the decision as an insult after two grueling years teaching through the pandemic.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

News educationYouth Reporting
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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