SB1 gives more control over schools to taxpayers, rather than school councils

·3 min read

That schools should be under the control of parents of children in the district and the taxpayers who fund them is not a controversial position. If you asked most people, they would say that that’s exactly what they want. But for 32 years Kentucky’s schools have not operated this way.

In 1990, as a part of the Kentucky Reform Act of 1990 (KERA), direct control over schools through elected school boards was set aside in favor of “site-based decision making” councils (called SBDMs). The councils served an important goal of reforms, which was to more easily impose changes to schools under the then new law. Indeed, the councils are the last vestige of these unpopular reforms.

SBDMs would make it easier to install now discredited methods of teaching basic skills, such as whole language (non-phonetic) reading methodologies, the newest version of the New Math, and writing instruction that downplayed grammar and structure. It would also help grease the skids for school acceptance of the high-stakes testing regime that was effectively dismantled by 2009’s SB1.

There were two major problems with site-based councils that critics at the time—and critics now—have pointed to.

The first was the fact that the councils, made up of the school’s principal, three teachers, and only two parents, consigned parents to perpetual minority status on the councils. They were outnumbered by teachers 3-to-2, and outnumbered by school employees (the principal and teachers) 4-to-2. The fact that teachers were the most dominant single faction on the councils was no mistake: as Frankfort insiders were well aware at the time of KERA’s passage, controlling status for teachers was one of the conditions for gaining crucial support of KERA from teachers unions.

SBDMS were, in fact, given over to teacher control, which is why the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) has always opposed any suggestion that the councils be eliminated or their makeup changed. With the introduction of SB1, which was passed by the Kentucky State Senate last week, and is now being considered by the State House, they are in opposition once again.

The second problem with the councils was that there was no representation of the people who funded schools: taxpayers. While school board members are elected by the broader community, which includes all educational stakeholders, site-based council members are limited only to school employees and parents of children at the school. There is no seat for those who are paying for schools.

SB1 gives control of schools back to communities by returning power to locally elected school boards. It does not eliminate site-based councils, but demotes them to advisory status, which should always have been their proper role.

School boards represent a much broader constituency with interest in our schools. They are elected by the parents, teachers, and taxpayers and are therefore more representative of the communities they serve. Special interest groups like teachers unions have a voice, but not majority control.

If the goal of local control is really an important one, then the locals should have the control—not special interest educational groups.

Martin Cothran is a policy analyst for the Family Foundation.

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