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Local legislators work on state's education system

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Carney, Higdon busy in legislative session

By Calen McKinney

 

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Changes will soon be made to the state’s education system, and Taylor County’s state senator and representative are leading the way.

Bills proposed by Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, and Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, are making their way through the General Assembly.

The bills will increase the high school dropout age to 18 and put more safety measures in place at public school systems.

House Bill 224, which will raise the dropout age in Kentucky from 16 to 18, has passed the House and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

A bill must be approved by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Steve Beshear before it can become law.

Carney is one of several co-sponsors of the bill. The measure will increase school attendance age from 16 to 17 on July 1, 2017, and then again from age 17 to 18 a year later. Kentucky’s current dropout age of 16 was set in 1920.

Carney said the reasons to support the bill are clear. He said it has been proven that those who stay in school have a stronger chance at getting better paying jobs and continuing to college.

“The reasoning is pretty clear to me,” he said.

Those who drop out of school, Carney said, are at a much higher risk of receiving public assistance and becoming incarcerated. Carney said the bill will help taxpayers by cutting down on the number of those using public assistance and, at the same time, could reduce the prison population.

A similar bill filed in the Senate, Senate Bill 99, which Higdon co-sponsored, contains the same elements of Carney’s bill, though it gives local districts the option to require students to attend school until they turn 18.

Carney said he typically favors allowing local option, though, in this case, he believes some school districts lack guidance and might not be able to meet the needs of those wanting to drop out of school.

He said some might argue that the House bill is an unfunded mandate. To that he says schools receive state funding based on attendance. If more students attend school, the school will receive more money.

If not raised, Carney said, he believes the dropout age is an unfunded liability and will cost taxpayers.

Those who graduate early are exempt from the age 18 requirement, he said. Those who are home schooled are also exempt.

Higdon said he believes in the Senate bill, which gives the local option to pass the age 18 requirement. For those who want to drop out, he said, the bill requires a plan in place for what those students will do after leaving school. He said the Taylor County school system does that.

“[Taylor County Superintendent] Roger Cook won’t allow a child to drop out,” he said. “He will find what his kids are good at.”

Campbellsville and Taylor County school systems both have low, and, in some cases, zero dropout rates.

Higdon said he believes that even though the Senate bill allows local districts the option to approve the age 18 provision, most will do so.

“I feel like every school district in my district will implement [this] in a few years,” he said.

Both pieces of legislation are very similar, he said, and contain good elements.

“There will be some sort of compromise.”

Bills that will increase school safety are also filtering through Senate and House chambers. Both are based on recommendations from committees formed to address school safety issues, one of which Carney is a member.

House Bill 354, which Carney co-sponsored, will require all schools to adopt a comprehensive emergency plan and carry out drills regularly. The plan would have to cover lock-down situations, fires and tornadoes and be shared with the state’s Department of Education and several police, fire departments and medical personnel agencies. The bill also encourages police chiefs and sheriffs to receive more school and student safety training.

The other legislation, Senate Bill 8, which Higdon co-sponsored, would also require schools to adopt an emergency plan, conduct emergency drills and send an annual report to the Department of Education.

House Bill 354 was at an education committee for discussion at press time. Senate Bill 8 had been approved by the Senate and was headed to a House education committee for consideration.

Carney said House Bill 354 is based on discussion among lawmakers, teachers and other professionals. He said it adds low-cost measures to help beef up school security.

In the Campbellsville and Taylor County school districts, he said, school resource officers roam the halls in efforts to keep students safe. That’s not true of all districts.

Carney said the local school systems have been evaluated by the Kentucky Center for School Safety and done a good job at implementing recommendations. House Bill 354 will require simple actions, Carney said, that will make schools safer. He said it calls for hallways to be numbered so police will know exactly where to go in an emergency situation.

Another low cost measure, he said, is allowing law enforcement to access school camera systems with a touch of a button, which would allow them to see exactly what is happening in an emergency.

Higdon said he believes in increasing school safety.

“School safety is paramount,” he said.

He said both Taylor County and Campbellsville school districts have systems that require visitors to be allowed into school buildings.

The proposed bills, Higdon said, require that students know what to do and where to go in an emergency.

“There’s a lot of good stuff without costing a lot of money,” he said.

“There is no way we can make a school 100 percent safe. There are a lot of things we can do to make them safer.”

Carney said he expects either House Bill 354 or Senate Bill 8 will pass.

“We want to make a statement that we’re gonna do all we can to help our children because they’re our most valuable resource,” he said.

And Higdon said he expects lawmakers will work together to approve the best bill.

“Safety is not a partisan issue,” he said. “It won’t be hard to get everybody on the same sheet of music on that.”

Cook said the Taylor County School Board recently upped its dropout age to 18.

“To me it is not an unfunded mandate as it appears to be to others. That╒s because our virtual charter school offers the same services to all and keeping dropouts in that program only gives us more [state] money,” he said. “I do not allow students to drop out or fail. I will find something that will fit their learning style. Something they can be successful at. I support whole heartedly House Bill 224.”

Campbellsville Superintendent Mike Deaton said he is supportive of any legislation that will help educate youth.

“The issue will be whether or not there is funding available to assist us in helping those at-risk students gain a degree so as to improve their opportunities in life.”

Cook said he also supports the proposed safety bills and any that make school safer for students.

“We already practice all our drills multiple times throughout the year. And we have plans that fit every situation that were developed several years ago.”

Carney said this year’s session, so far, has been a busy one with lots of meetings and discussion about proposed legislation.

Higdon said he has had lots of visitors in Frankfort and hundreds of calls from Taylor County residents.

“People participate in the process,” he said. “ ... And want their voices to be heard.

“Bam and I both work for the citizens of Campbellsville and Taylor County and we want to be there for them.”

To contact Carney during this year’s General Assembly session, call 465-5400 or email john.carney@lrc.ky.gov.

To contact Higdon, call (270) 692-6945 or email jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov.