FRANKFORT – The state House of Representatives passed measures Thursday to provide school districts extra money for transportation costs and to teach work skills and drug prevention as part of the public schools’ curriculum.

House Bill 471, sponsored by Rep. Steve Rudy, R-Paducah, authorizes the transfer of excess school funds based on student enrollment and attendance to the schools’ transportation funds.

State and local funding for operation of public schools, called SEEK, is based on estimates of enrollment and when actual enrollment falls below estimates the excess is typically retained by the state. During previous budgets, that money was often redistributed to schools, but in the current budget the funds were appropriated for pensions. Rudy’s measure will allow it to be distributed to local districts for transportation costs.

The bill also ensures coverage of dependent insurance for about 800 retired teachers and authorizes money in the second year of the budget for tuition subsidies for optometry and veterinary students who attend out-of-state universities with reciprocity agreements with Kentucky.

The measure passed 87-5 and now goes to the Senate.

The House also passed House Bill 454, sponsored by Majority Leader Johnathan Shell, R-Lancaster, to include “essential work skills” and drug abuse education in public schools curricula for grades K-12.

The bill would require local school districts and the Kentucky Department of Education to develop age-appropriate curricula teaching “essential skills” in areas such as “adaptability, reliability, remaining drug free, initiative, working with others and knowledge.”

It also calls for age-appropriate drug education programs in grades K-12 and establish nine areas of which students would have to complete three in order to graduate. Among those will be no more than 6 percent absentee rate, 25 hours of community service, extracurricular activities, work skills development, dual credit hours and voluntary random drug testing.

Shell responded to questions from several Democrats by emphasizing the drug testing is entirely voluntary and students must complete only three of the nine skills areas, all of which they can choose.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, asked what the cost to local districts might be, but Shell said the curricula would be developed as the state moves to new assessment and learning standards, which will soon be underway, and teachers will be trained as part of their existing professional development requirements.

Shell also conceded that he hadn’t discussed the measure with the Kentucky Education Department but others have.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, a retired teacher, said the bill is another example of legislators asking teachers to do much more than teach, to serve as surrogate parents for children, many of whom come from poverty or broken homes.

Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, agreed.

“Our teachers are teachers,” Rand said. “They can’t solve all of our society’s problems. The real problem is we don’t invest enough in education.”

But Shell and Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said employers are crying for workers with basic work skills who can pass drug tests.

“Every industry in my district is looking for something like this,” Tipton said.

The bill passed 72-21 and will now go to the Senate.

The House also passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, which provides the state Labor Secretary broad discretion about what wage complaints to investigate – or whether to investigate.

Several Democrats objected to placing that discretion solely with an appointee of the governor but the measure passed 81-15 and now goes to the Senate.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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