When we look at two bills on education in the current Kentucky General Assembly, we have bad news and good news – or to be more specific, a bill of froth and a bill of substance. Let’s get the bad news, the froth bill, out of the way first.
On February 12, the Senate approved Senator Max Wise’s Senate Bill 150 on transgender pronouns and parental rights. According to a Courier-Journal report, the bill “allows teachers to refuse to refer to transgender students by their preferred pronouns.”
Senate Bill 150 would also “require that parents be given notice and an opportunity to review materials before human sexuality instruction begins at their children’s school. An alternative assignment would have to be made available for students whose parents disapprove of the instruction.” It also would “prohibit education leaders from requiring policies to keep students’ information confidential from their parents” unless giving out that information might cause the parents to abuse the student.
The bill “was touted as protecting free-speech rights [of teachers] in classrooms” and its sponsor, Senator Wise, is Republican Kelly Craft’s running mate in the upcoming gubernatorial race.
We are supposed to be happy that our Republican friends are protecting both teachers and parents from those nasty Democrats who are trying to get teachers to indoctrinate students against their parent’s wishes.
My liberal Democratic colleagues are upset about this bill but, as a former teacher, I can assure them that they need not worry.
The truth is that this bill is a frothy campaign advertisement for Craft and Wise. It will please Kentucky voters who are afraid of people who are transgender or LBGTQ+ for that matter, but it will not cause as much damage, should the House pass it, as many think it will.
Anyone who is opposed to using pronouns such as “they” or “them” to describe an individual or who just find it hard to do can simply call a student his or her (or their) name. The law does not forbid that. And the law encourages alternative reading or learning materials for any child whose parents don’t want him, her (or they) to encounter sexual instruction that might cause harm to their child.
In sum, there is little in this law that will prevent a good teacher or administrator from adequately and appropriately providing a sound education to any student. The law is unnecessary, a solution searching for a problem, a shout-out to far-right members of the Republican base.
Maybe it is time that the voting public woke up to this sort of political chicanery by Republicans in Kentucky. There are more honest and less “ain’t it awful” laments that can be used to get votes.
It is clear that Republicans know this when we look at their support of House Bill 319, a genuine attempt to attract more good teachers to Kentucky classrooms and end the current teacher shortage.
House Bill 319, which may be passed by the legislature by the time you read this, approves several new ways to attract teachers to Kentucky – short, of course, of significant salary increases, something that may come later.
This measure will allow teachers appropriately certified in any other state to teach in Kentucky. It would establish a statewide job posting system so prospective teachers don’t have to apply in several districts. HB 319 would expand the Teacher Scholarship Program administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) and would allow anyone with permanent residency in Kentucky to apply.
Finally, this bill would require exit surveys of all teachers leaving their jobs, giving administrator and politicians a chance to see clearly some of the problems facing today’s teachers.
This bipartisan measure offers some concrete steps to attract more teachers; if it were to be supplemented by deliberate steps to afford all classroom teachers the professional respect and autonomy they deserve, and were to be accompanied by competitive salaries, we would have a teacher surplus instead of a shortage of teachers within a very few years.
It is good to see that Republicans can be supportive of public education. Now, if they could wake up and support more bills like HB 319, and consign those like SB 150 to the dustbin, we would all be better off.