Daniel Suddeath

Daniel Suddeath

Education policy is beginning to rival what we've long said about Kentucky weather in that if you don't like it at the moment, just wait a day. 

It's a full-time job just keeping up with the proposals and potential changes to public education in our state. Notably for local residents, the iLearn@home program utilized by Barren County Schools, and a suggestion of combining independent school districts like Caverna and Glasgow with county school systems have been discussed during the past week by state legislators. 

Combine those topics of interest with the backdrop of potential pension reform and it's not hard to figure out why so many educators are seeking public office this year. 

How our General Assembly and governor handle these and other issues will shape public education in Kentucky for decades to come. We will definitely need bipartisanship from our elected leaders and input from their constituents to come to rational and feasible decisions. 

For those not familiar with iLearn@home, it's a program where school districts can utilize an in-home, internet-based study program for a set number of days to cut back on makeup time when schools are dismissed for bad weather or sickness. One of the positives is that it obviously reduces makeup time, but the program also prepares students for the future. More and more, every facet of society is linked to our ability to utilize online communication and processes. Providing students the autonomy to learn in this fashion and be introduced to this technology at a young age is wise. Teachers also provide hard copies of assignments if students don't have access to the internet. 

There can be drawbacks to the program such as a lack of face-to-face instruction from teachers (which is one reason they're so valuable) and a need for parent participation to keep students on track.  

Some legislators want to scale back if not eliminate this option, and it appears such a cut could likely be approved by the General Assembly. I would hate to see the program completely abandoned, as it seems to be a good tool to keep students and staff from spending all summer in school making up days. Remember some state legislators have suggested lengthening the summer break as a way to capture more tourism revenue from families traveling when the weather is nice. Ending iLearn@home would contradict that idea. 

More of a direct impact to all of our schools is the bill filed, though unlikely to receive a vote, that calls for independent school districts like Caverna and Glasgow to be combined with county districts such as Barren County Schools. I know this will be unpopular, but I think this idea warrants consideration. With our state continuing to struggle financially, you can expect to hear a lot about mergers in the coming years.  

You have to keep in mind that it would be districts combining, and not necessarily schools. For example, it's highly unlikely Glasgow High School would merge with Barren County High School if such legislation were approved. Those schools would simply be under the management of the same school system. 

I know how it goes. We hang on to our high school rivalries in this state. I went to Christian County High School, and we Colonels hated everything about our rivals at Hopkinsville High School. The difference is, Hopkinsville and Christian County are in the same school system. If it's the name that irks people, they could call it the Glasgow-Barren County School System. Problem solved.  

This matters financially. With each separate school system, you have separate administrative costs and you're paying for duplicity in several positions. Barren County has three public school systems. That's too many for the number of students living here. Keep the schools, combine the systems, eliminate positions that overlap — that approach doesn't seem too far-fetched in a time when schools are having trouble paying for teachers and equipment. 

The pension issue has exposed that our government is woefully behind in its funding commitment to our educators and most importantly, our students. Hard decisions will have to be made to rectify the financial imbalances Kentucky faces. There simply aren't enough new funding opportunities in Kentucky for us to believe that we're going to get out of this mess only by raising revenue, and people aren't making enough money in this state to expect them to be able to afford sizable tax increases. At the same time, we must provide a work environment that attracts quality educators or face the consequences in the form of poorly educated students who will struggle to keep up in the workplace. 

We need to consider ways to increase revenue through tourism, gaming and business growth while also giving serious consideration to cost-saving measures that are sensible. 

Or we can just wait for things to change and hope for the best. At least that approach usually works for the weather. 

Suddeath is the editor of the Glasgow Daily Times. His column appears in the Thursday edition and at various times throughout the week. Reach him at 270-678-5171, or by email at dsuddeath@glasgowdailytimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @DsuddeathGDT.  


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