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Kentucky's Governor Reveals Details Of His Plan for School Restructuring

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In a bid to garner new support for education initiatives that failed in Kentucky's last legislative session, Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson last week unveiled the details of his plan to promote school restructuring.

The proposal, presented by state Secretary of Education Jack Foster, would require each school in the state to establish an "instructional-improvement team" to devise plans to raise student performance. Administrators and teachers would receive cash bonuses if their school's students showed improvement as a result of the efforts.

"What we have tried to do is put together the best ideas that we could find all over the country," Mr. Foster said. He said the focus of the plan was not to mandate change from the top, but rather to encourage reforms at the local level.

The plan calls for quick implementation, with the instructional teams beginning their work in the upcoming school year. The first merit bonuses would be awarded at the end of the 1990-91 year--only months before Mr. Wilkinson's term expires.

In order to move that quickly, the Governor will have to call a special session to seek legislative approval for his plan. Mr. Wilkinson pledged to call such a session after his proposals on school restructuring and merit bonuses were rebuffed in the regular 1988 session.

But legislators have said they will oppose a special session until the Governor agrees to consider their education proposals and to discuss raising taxes to pay for school improvements. Governor Wilkinson has said that he opposes a tax increase.

Another factor complicating the reform debate is a case now before the Kentucky Supreme Court that is testing the constitutionality of the state's school-finance system.

The draft released last week fleshes out many of the proposals that the Governor has offered over the past several months.

Improvement Teams

The "instructional-improvement teams" envisioned under the plan would consist of a school's principal and several teachers. Each team would "design specific actions the school wants to take to improve student learning," according to the proposal. Teams could draw on a new pool of state money for instructional materials.

Each team's plan would have to gain the approval of the local school board before it could be implemented. Plans would also have to be approved by a district-level "instructional-improvement coordinating council."

To assist schools in restructuring, the state would establish an "institute for educational leadership" and three regional centers to provide training and technical assistance to local educators.

In each region, six "benchmark" schools would experiment with site-based management, assisted by the institute and their regional center.

Performance Index

To gauge the success of schools' efforts, the Governor's plan calls for the creation of an "educational-performance index" that would determine whether a school's staff members would be eligible for a cash bonus at the end of each school year.

The index for high schools would be pegged to students' college-entrance-test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates, dropout rates, and achievement levels.

Elementary, middle, and junior high schools would be judged on attendance and achievement levels, as well as the percentage of students "who exhibit positive attitudes to8ward self and learning."

A baseline score for each school would be established in the 1989-90 school year. For a school's faculty to qualify for a bonus, the school would have to reach a "significant-improvement level," to be set by the state board of education. Each school would be judged only on its own progress, rather than in comparison with other schools.

The plan does not set specific cash rewards, but specifies that $1,000 should be the minimum paid to teachers and other certified personnel.

Although the plan does not include an estimate of its overall cost, Mr. Foster said the Governor was trying to keep the annual price tag within the $75-million range he previously discussed for his reform initiatives.

Lawmakers' Proposal

Mr. Wilkinson has yet to respond to a reform plan presented to him by lawmakers in April.

The legislature offered to spend up to $158 million over three years for the Governor's proposals. But it also has insisted on full funding for reforms approved in 1985, additional state aid for poor districts, and new programs for at-risk children and preschoolers.

Legislative leaders estimate the cost of their plan will reach $348 million by 1992, an amount far greater than that envisioned by the Governor.

The Governor and lawmakers also disagree on the timing of the special session.

Mr. Wilkinson said he would prefer that the session be held before the supreme court rules in the school-finance case. That decision could come at any time.

Legislators, however, said the session should be held after the ruling is issued to permit them to revise the finance system if they are ordered to do so by the court.

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