Small Mercer schools help change laws

April 19, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - Two school officials and their state representative managed to get two education bills passed in this year's state legislative session which ended without lawmakers being able to pass a budget for the next two years.

Burgin Superintendent Richard Webb, Harrodsburg Superintendent H.M. Snodgrass and Rep. Jack Coleman, who represented Mercer and Anderson counties, shepherded the bills through the House and Senate and they have been signed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

The two bills address issues of accountability in test scores and dropout statistics. House Bill 176 states that a student must be enrolled in a school for at least 100 days before that student's test scores are part of a school's accountability index.

The second law, originally House Bill 178, states a student that drops out of school must have been enrolled in the school he leaves for at least 30 days before that student is counted in the school's drop-out statistics.


In both bills, if the student in question has been enrolled in the school district, but not a particular school, for the necessary number of days, that student is counted with the district's statistics.

House Bill 178 also provides for a student's successful completion of the General Educational Development program. If the student completes the program within one year of leaving school, that student is not counted in dropout statistics.

Snodgrass and Webb say the bills will benefit both the students and the school systems. Webb said the GED component will give students a chance to complete their high school studies. "The real issue is that Kentucky's definition of a dropout was not consistent with the national definition," Snodgrass said. "As a result of that circumstance, it created an additional burden and unreasonable circumstances on school districts in Kentucky."

"What we were finding," Coleman said, "was one dropout or bad test score could have an adverse effect on these small districts." Nevertheless, he says the new laws do not give small districts an advantage.

"It really wasn't about small districts trying to get around being held accountable. It was that the state department of education didn't have very fair ways of giving (students) another chance."

State would not add these rulings to education regulations

Taking these issues to the legislature became necessary when the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education would not add these rulings to state's education regulations, Webb said. He and Snodgrass had urged the department to take care of these problems for the past two years, he said. "Our pleas fell on deaf ears," Webb said last week. "So, we decided to try to go through the process of getting these items into law."

Snodgrass serves on a panel whose responsibility it is to make recommendations concerning curriculum and assessment to the state Department of Education and the governor's office. He also is a member of the commissioner of education's Superintendent Advisory Committee.

"In those capacities, we've attempted for over two years to get the department staff and the state board to address the definition of dropout and how it affects (national statistics)," Snodgrass said last week. Those efforts did not result in the issues being addressed.

More than 800 bills were filed in this year's legislative session and Webb said House Bills 176 and 178 were two of some 100 that were approved. "Jack was the one that pushed them through," Webb said. "He started the process and saw it all the way through." The governor signed the bills earlier this month.

One of Coleman's last acts

The passage of the two bills was one of Coleman's last acts as a state representative; he is not seeking re-election. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate and respect Jack Coleman for the job he's done in the legislature the last 14 years," Webb said.

"He is truly for what is best for the state of Kentucky and its citizens. He has always been for what is right and not necessarily politically the best."

Asked about working on these bills, Coleman said, "It was fun working with those guys." All three men credit other legislators, including Reps. Rick Nelson and Lindy Casebier and Sen. Dan Kelly, for assisting in the passage of the bills.

Coleman, who has been on the education committee all of his 14 years in the state House, said he worked with Tony Goetz, who serves as Senate liaison from the governor's office. He also credited Snodgrass and Webb and school officials in Danville for their leadership in guiding their small independent districts through the regulations and laws generated by the Kentucky Education Reform Act.

Snodgrass said once the process of getting the bills passed was under way, "Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit and his staff worked closely with us. We appreciate their willingness to work with us."

Webb, on the other hand, chastised the state board of education and the education department for recent actions. "Now that it's law, I find it very humorous that the board has had the foresight to put these issues in the regulations. I wonder where they were two years ago."

Coleman seemed to agree. Speaking of the issues addressed in the two laws that will take effect on July 15, he said, "They could have and should have done that before."

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