FRANKFORT ⎯ June marks the beginning of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2021 Interim Joint Session. From now through the remainder of the year, both Senate and House members will attend monthly committee meetings, in person and virtually, to examine and discuss matters ahead of the 2022 Regular Session. Although lawmakers will not act on legislation during the interim, we will delve into the progression of previously enacted laws and review potential and prefiled legislation along with their implications on the Commonwealth.
Members of the Interim Joint Committee on Education heard from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and a few school district leaders on participation in virtual learning throughout the last academic year. The KDE assistant director in the Division of District Support, Jessica Carlton, said 29 school districts were selected at random to submit participation data for one elementary school, middle school, and high school within their district. Two out of the three reports, October 2020 and January 2021, have been published so far.
According to KDE’s presentation, 11.35% of students in remote learning did not participate on the days selected for the study. Virtual participation statistics in the data was based on when a student logged in to a class or met with the teacher and logged in to complete assignments.
Several district leaders who testified shared stories of some students having to care for younger siblings while parents worked during the day or students having to work to help support their families during the pandemic were typical across school districts. The extra burdens made it difficult for some students to participate in school during regular school hours. All speakers shared how teachers and administrators made home visits, phone calls, and video calls, sometimes early in the morning or late into the evening, to meet the diverse needs of the students and their families.
Broadband access and quality is a top priority. In the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, legislators received a progress update from State Budget Director John Hicks on the broadband expansion project that focuses on underserved areas of the state. During the 2021 session, lawmakers passed legislation allocating $300 million to expand internet access in Kentucky. House Bill 320 earmarked $250 million in federal funds to expand broadband in rural and underserved areas, while House Bill 382 allocated $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for economic development-related broadband.
Director Hicks informed lawmakers that this is the first time Kentucky has launched a project like this, adding that the state has been looking at federal guidance and how other states have implemented similar programs. He also relayed to the committee that a “request for information” (RFI), which is general information about vendors, and a map of underserved areas will launch within the next two weeks. Members learned the report they receive from the RFI is a significant component in finalizing the state’s plan for the project.
As we begin the 2021 Interim, I will try to keep you as updated as possible. For more on the Kentucky General Assembly, visit legislature.ky.gov. There, you can see the General Assembly’s weekly schedule, watch live coverage of committee meetings, search legislator contact information, learn about the legislative process, view informational materials, and request to testify at committee meetings.
To share feedback on an issue, you can email me at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV. You can also leave a message for me on the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. Citizens with hearing impairments can use the Kentucky Relay Service at 711.