Senate passes bill shifting key school governance decisions

Published 7:00 am Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Kentucky Senate passed a top-priority bill Saturday to shift key school governance decisions to superintendents and away from school-based decision-making councils.

The legislation would give local school superintendents the authority to choose curriculum — an increasingly contentious issue in some school districts across the country. Also under the bill, the selection of school principals would be put in the hands of superintendents.

The measure cleared the Senate on a 25-9 vote and now goes to the House. The proposal’s designation as Senate Bill 1 signals that it’s a leading priority among Senate Republicans for the 2022 session. The GOP has supermajorities in both chambers.
The bill’s critics worry that consolidating more authority with superintendents would weaken the influence of teachers and parents in school decision making.

Republican Sen. John Schickel, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the goal is improve a local school governance system that’s turned “dysfunctional” because it’s often “in conflict with itself.”

Assigning curriculum and principal hiring decisions to superintendents would strengthen public accountability for key decisions that determine school and student success, he said.

Those superintendents are hired and fired by locally elected school boards.

“At the end of the day, if he or she doesn’t reflect the wishes of that community, they get someone who does,” Schickel said.
Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams said the measure would benefit students who move from one school to another in the same district. Too often, they have to adjust to different curriculums that vary among the schools, she said.

“I’m hopeful that this legislation will start to streamline those curriculums for those students that have to move to different schools,” she said.

The school-based decision-making councils were created by the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. The councils include parent and teacher members. The idea was to empower those closest to the students in helping set school policies.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, the chamber’s top-ranking Democrat, said Saturday that SB1 runs counter to the local control philosophy frequently discussed in the Senate.

“I thought we were usually debating for more local control,” he said. “So today we are taking the voices out of the hands of the people most familiar with the kids and those schools.”

Under the bill, superintendents would determine curriculum after consulting with the school principal and school council, and after “a reasonable review and response period for stakeholders” in accordance with local school board policy.

Superintendents also would have to consult with the school council before hiring a principal.

Kentucky lawmakers met for a rare Saturday session as they wrapped up work on redistricting bills.