Call to Order and Roll Call
TheSeptember meeting of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee was held on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, at 10:08 a.m., in Room 129 of the Capitol Annex. Representative James Kay, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Legislative Guests: Representative Derrick Graham.
Guests: Bob Rowland, Kentucky Association of School Administrators; Mike Sunseri, Executive Advisor, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security; Jarred Ball, Executive Advisor, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security.
Approval of minutes of the August 16, 2016 meeting was tabled until the next meeting due to lack of quorum.
2015 District Data Profiles
Mr. Albert Alexander, Analyst, Office of Education Accountability (OEA) presented the 2015 District Data Profile. This publication was awarded a Notable Documents award in 2012. This is the ninth year the publication has been produced by OEA. The report provides easy access to commonly used educational data and allows comparison of school districts to each other and to the state as a whole. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) provided the data for the report from Infinite Campus (IC), the system used by all school systems to record student data and MUNIS, the repository for district staffing and financial data.
The report included a data dictionary, district profiles for all 173 districts, an overall state profile, and rankings on selected measures. Mr. Alexander highlighted key features such as the “Overview and Trends” section of each profile which shows the number of students in each district and the number of A1 schools in the district. The “Demographic Profile” section shows a demographic breakdown for each district in the 2015 year as well as the previous three years. This makes recent trends, such as the percentage of students on Free/Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL), more evident. Another section shows data on “Attainment and Discipline.” Mr. Alexander noted that graduation rate data is not available for comparison in year 2012 because of changes to the approach for calculating graduation rates in that year. Because adult GED rates were not available in 2012 or 2013, comparative data was not provided for those years.
The “Staffing Data” section includes the number of classified personnel, certified personnel, full-term equivalent (FTE) teachers, pupil/teacher ratio, teacher pay, teacher experience and teacher rank. The data on FTE teachers only included classroom teachers. The “Salary Schedule” table reports data by rank and years of experience for each district and an average for the state profile. This is the first year that teacher contract days have been shown on the schedule. Contract teaching days are the number of base days a board of education has adopted to pay certified staff each year. The minimum number of contract days for any district is 185, and 86 districts were at that level. The maximum number of days for any district in 2015 was 188, represented by only one district.
Student Performance is also provided in the report, showing data for Advanced Placement (AP), EXPLORE, PLAN, ACT (11th Grade), kindergarten readiness, dual credit, and Next-Generation learners. This is the first year that data for dual credit, which allows students to earn high school and college credit for the same coursework simultaneously, was captured. A rich array of financial data is also illustrated in the report, starting with per-pupil expenditures and revenues as well as tax rates and SEEK distribution. Mr. Alexander pointed out that the state profile reports the number of districts with various types of taxes while each district profile shows rates and dollar amounts. The end-of-year fund balance and expenditures by function as a percentage of all fund expenditures were also available in the “Finance” section of the report. State current expenditures are listed in the finance section and show that 58 percent of expenditures were on instruction in 2015. Mr. Alexander showed a district profile with higher than average expenditure on instruction (64 percent) and noted that this same district also had a 1 percent fund balance in 2014, lower than the state-mandated 2 percent minimum. He said some districts were found to have negative fund balance percentages.
Mr. Alexander discussed potential uses for the data in the report include tracking trends in student population and characteristics, staffing, or finance. It is possible to follow the data back as far as 2007 using previous editions of the report available online. The report can also assist in the assessment of the impact of new initiatives and provide a context for other information. Senator Wilson said that he always looked forward to receiving the report. He said that it would be very useful while working on the revisions to the state’s accountability system next year.
Chairman Kay echoed the sentiments voiced by Senator Wilson and said it was a gold mine of information that not many legislators were aware existed. Mr. Alexander said that the individual district data was sent to legislators so they were aware of their own districts, but the entire report and statewide profile were available online or upon request.
Kentucky Safe Schools Report
Mr. Logan Rupard, Analyst, OEA, and Mr. Bart Liguori, Division Director of Research, OEA, were present to discuss the Kentucky Safe Schools Report and provide recommendations to the committee. Mr. Rupard thanked staff of the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS), KDE, and the district and school administrators who provided data and other information for the study. The data sources used for the study included Safe Schools Discipline Data; Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning (TELL) Survey responses; the annual Indicators of School Crime and Safety report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES); interviews with KCSS and KDE staff; findings from the KCSS Safe School Assessments; MUNIS annual financial reports; and site visits to seven district offices and 11 schools.
Mr. Rupard discussed strengths of the Safe Schools Program. Most importantly, according to TELL survey data, almost all teachers perceived their work environments as safe. During OEA site visits, administrators reported that they valued KCSS information and services. Districts and schools appear to be compliant with most school safety requirements. Kentucky mirrors the nation with respect to teacher and student safety issues. The only notable exception being that fewer Kentucky students report using marijuana than the national average.
Some issues with the program were also noted by category, beginning with budgetary and financial issues. General Assembly allocations for the Safe Schools grant have fluctuated since inception in 1998. Historically, KCSS has retained 12 percent of allocations for operating expenses. A majority of districts are utilizing the opportunity to move revenue within Flexible Focus Funds. In the 2015 fiscal year, districts spent five times as much on school safety as they received from the Safe Schools grant with providing alternative programs as the largest expense for districts.
Data integrity and outcome issues included significant discrepancies between discipline data recorded in IC compared to the School-wide Information System (SWIS) and paper forms. Also, educator perception of safety is lower in schools with above-average percentages of minority students. This was combined with data showing male, special education, and black students are more likely to have a behavioral violation and are more likely to be suspended for committing a violation. There was also evidence showing variations in Codes of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline between schools within the same district. Additionally, in most instances, statutorily required consequences are not being enforced for weapons violations.
Structural issues with the program were also discussed. Mr. Rupard noted the overlapping roles of KCSS and KDE assigned within statute and KDE’s relatively limited role in ensuring compliance with school safety assurances being self-reported and unverified by KDE. During site visits, administrators also voiced concerns with Senate Bill 200 from the 2014 Regular Session, known as the Juvenile Justice Reform Bill.
Mr. Rupard spoke more specifically about Kentucky educators’ perceptions and student behavior events that were apparent in the data. More than 90 percent of educators work in an environment that they perceive as safe. However, in most schools, at least one educator reported not working in a safe environment. Educators in alternative schools were more likely to disagree that their school environment was safe. Educators’ perception of school safety was lower in schools with above-average percentages of minority students. NCES survey data for students in grades 9-12 was used for state level analysis of school safety and displayed as a graph comparing Kentucky students with the national average in several areas. This illustrated that Kentucky is generally lower than the U.S. for most metrics, but the only metric with statistical significance was that pertaining to marijuana use.
For Safe School Reporting, KDE reports if the incident involves assault or violence; drugs, alcohol, or tobacco; weapons; bullying or harassment; or if an incident results in an in-school/out-of-school suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment, restraint, or seclusion. KDE further categorizes events into either board or law violations, both of which include incident types which must be reported including bullying and harassment; threatening and verbal abuse; or use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Other incident types which may be reported only if they result in an in-school/out-of-school suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment, restraint or seclusion are fighting, disrespectful behavior, cheating, and skipping class. OEA is unable to determine the total number of fights occurring in the state because of this reporting policy.
During the 2014-15 school year, 290 schools had no board violations reported while 195 schools had more than 100 violations per 1,000 students. Of the schools with no violations there were 180 elementary schools and four middle schools. No high schools had zero board violations reported. The total number of board violations has increased by 56 percent since 2013, and the board violations for special education students doubled from 2013 to 2015. Bullying violations have decreased slightly, but reports of harassment have slightly increased. Of all reported board violations, 70 percent occurred within the classroom setting.
Some of the more notable observations from the board violation data include a significantly higher number of violations for male students compared to female students, FRPL students compared to paid students, special education students compared to non-special education students, and black students compared to students of other ethnicities. The violations for each grade level were also illustrated. There was a notable increase in the number of violations at the beginning of middle school, and another increase at the beginning of high school with the highest total number of board violations committed by ninth grade students.
Mr. Rupard discussed reports of law violations including robbery, possession of drugs, destruction of property, weapons, assault, and terroristic threatening. During the 2014-15 school year, 776 schools had no law violations reported in the Safe Schools report while 60 schools had more than 60 violations per 1,000 students enrolled, this resulted in an overall 2 percent increase from 2013. Male students are more than twice as likely to have a reported law violation as female students and FRPL students are also twice as likely to have a law violation as non-FRPL students. In 2013, law violations for special education and non-special education students were identical, but in 2014 law violations increased dramatically for special education students compared to their non-special education peers. Black students commit more than three times the number of reported law violations relative to enrollment. Black students make up 11 percent of student population, however, they account for more than 28 percent of reported law violations. As with board violations, ninth grade students are also responsible for the largest number of law violations.
The outcomes for weapons violations were illustrated in a graph for members. Most weapon violations resulted in suspension, but in-school removal and outcomes not tied to a state code (reported as blank) are increasing. Numbers of expulsions are decreasing and led to the first OEA recommendation. KRS 158.150 requires the expulsion from school of a student who is determined by the board to have brought a weapon to school, however, the data shows that students who bring a weapon to school are not likely to be expelled. Based on statute and data provided, KDE may wish to further explore how KRS 158.150 is implemented by schools and local boards of education.
Suspension rates for students committing an assault or violent incident were shown in a table comparing lunch status (FRPL/non-FRPL) and ethnicity. Black students, both FRPL and non-FRPL, are more likely to receive a suspension compared to their peers. Hispanic students as a whole are the least likely group to receive a suspension. Similar findings were made for other categories of law violations. This prompted another recommendation that KDE should consider visiting schools with very high or disproportionate rates of violations, suspensions, and expulsions to understand the factors contributing to these rates.
Mr. Bart Liguori reviewed the General Assembly appropriations for the Safe Schools grant, including how much of the grant goes to KCSS, a separate entity created by the General Assembly in 1998, and to local school districts. Over the last 17 years, the General Assembly has appropriated a total of $144.2 million to the Safe Schools Program. In the 1999 fiscal year, $5 million was appropriated and increased to $10 million in 2000. Allocations were highest in 2001 and 2002 with $12 million appropriated each year. Due to the economic recession, between 2009 and 2014, funds dropped to below the initial allocation. In 2016, appropriations came to $10.3 million. KRS 158.446 requires that 10 percent of funds shall be used for operation of KCSS and grants to be distributed by KCSS to support exemplary programs and local school districts. The remainder should be distributed on a per-pupil basis.
Since 2000, budget language has overridden statute and requires KCSS to develop and implement allotment policies for all monies received. KCSS has been retaining 8-12 percent of the total funds for operating expenses, of which $7,000 was spent on exemplary programs. In the 2015 fiscal year, KCSS’s portion of the Safe Schools grant was $915,000 or 12 percent of the total appropriation. In 2016, the operating budget for KCSS was $1.1 million or 10.7 percent of the total appropriation. While the budget language overrides KRS 158.446, governing the use of appropriated funds, it does not override KRS 158.443 which discusses the duties of the KCSS board. Section 6 of the statute requires that the board make recommendations for grants to local school districts and schools to assist with the development of programs and individualized approaches to work with violent, destructive, or academically at-risk students, consistent with provisions of KRS 158.445. Because of the differing statute and budgetary language, OEA recommends that the General Assembly may wish to revise KRS 158.446 to address how Safe School grant funds are to be allocated to KCSS and local school districts. Additionally, it may be necessary to clarify whether KCSS should be required to fund exemplary programs.
Mr. Liguori said that KCSS partners with Murray State University and the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) to provide some services. KSBA provides training, assistance, alternative education sites, and sponsors workshops and conferences. They also help with school safety assessments. Murray State University hosts the KCSS website, serves as the resource center for information regarding safe schools, and provides safe school curricula for state colleges and universities. He referenced a table illustrating the 2016 allocation for KCSS divided among KCSS, KSBA, and Murray State University for salaries and benefits, service dollars, EKU indirect cost, operating costs, and travel expenses. Of the $1.1 million retained by KCSS, approximately 71 percent was spent on operating expenses. KSBA received approximately 17 percent, and Murray State received the remainder, approximately 12 percent. The majority of the funds retained by KCSS was spent on salaries and benefits and service dollars. Service dollars includes per diem fees paid to contractors who conduct safe schools assessments, making them free of charge to districts. These assessors took a pay cut from $300 per day to $200 per day when funds were limited, but these payments were restored when KCSS received additional appropriations. Most of the increase in KCSS’s operating budget in 2016 reflects this fee restoration.
KRS 158.443(5) mandates that KCSS be administered through a university, and since inception, KCSS has been housed at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). EKU has charged an 8 percent indirect cost rate to KCSS to cover general management activities such as payroll, purchasing, building space, and utilities. EKU has raised the indirect cost rates to 15 percent for the 2017 fiscal year, and will raise the costs again in 2018 to 20 percent. Due to the increase, KCSS considered posting a request for proposal for services. However, the dean of the College of Justice and Safety at EKU, a strong advocate for keeping KCSS at EKU, expressed a willingness to pay the balance of the indirect costs out of his department’s budget. OEA recommends that, because of the increase in the indirect cost rate and the uncertainty that the dean of the College of Justice and Safety can continue to cover increases above 8 percent, the General Assembly may want to consider changes to KRS 158.443 to eliminate the mandate that KCSS be administered through a university.
Mr. Liguori showed data regarding the district allocations of Safe School grant funds for the past six years. Districts receive a flat base amount each year, after which, the remaining funds are allocated on a per-pupil basis. In 2011, each district received a $9,000 base with a per-pupil amount of $3.60. In 2016, each district received a $20,000 base and a per-pupil amount of $9.52. The General Assembly authorized the use of Flexible Focus Funds, which allow districts the flexibility to move funds between five state grants to better address local needs, in the 2003 Biennial Budget and this language has continued to be included in subsequent budgets. The funding shifts are permitted among the Safe Schools, Preschool, Professional Development, Textbooks, and Extended School Services allocations. The only caveats are that no preschool funds can be shifted out of that program, program funds must still comply with the governing statutes, and funds must serve the needs of the intended student populations. In the 2011 fiscal year, 44 districts moved Flexible Focus Funds into the Safe Schools grant and 26 moved funds out, netting an increase over one million dollars. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of districts moving funds into the Safe Schools grant was larger than the number moving funds out of the Safe Schools grant. In 2015, the number of districts moving funds into the Safe Schools grant was reduced, but the dollar amount was larger, resulting in a positive net effect.
School safety expenditures include not only the Safe Schools grant but also funds from the General Fund, local and state grants, extended school services, professional development, and federal grants. School districts spent more than $34 million on school safety expenditures in the 2015 fiscal year. This was approximately $4.5 million more than the previous year, but less than the $35.5 million in 2012. Of the total spending in 2012, 10 percent came from the Safe Schools grant, but 18 percent came from the Safe Schools grant in 2015. Mr. Liguori lastly pointed out 2015 expenditures by expense object code. Approximately $29 million, or 84 percent, of funds spent on school safety were spent on salaries and benefits. Approximately $2.3 million (7 percent) was spent on professional and technical services, including the amounts paid to individuals or firms with specialized skills such as school resources officers, mental health specialists, and social workers. Other expenses classified in this section included professional development and drug testing. Mr. Liguori said the published report breaks down expenditures more specifically by program codes.
The final portion of the report covered school safety compliance and programs of distinction. Mr. Liguori said that KCSS provides a free safety tip-line to all schools, where students, parents, and community members can report information regarding school safety anonymously using a basic email format. KCSS provides free safe school assessments, which 166 districts took advantage of to date, resulting in 841 assessments. Additionally, KDE offers training in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) and supports the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Information about school safety services are available on the websites of both KCSS and KDE.
In regards to state compliance, KRS 158.148 requires KDE to collaborate with many parties, including members of the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education (IJCE) and KCSS, to develop and update as needed statewide student discipline guidelines that include a definition of “serious incident,” improve the learning environment and school climate (including parental and community involvement in schools and student achievement), and identify successful strategies currently being used in Kentucky and other states. Although KDE has recently begun the process of updating the statewide student discipline guidelines, the current guidelines have not been updated since 2003. Current guidelines do not define a “serious incident” or bullying, include recommendations designed to improve the learning environment in schools, or identify successful strategies. Also some statutory roles seem to overlap between KCSS and KDE in regards to reporting and technical assistance. One example of this was the requirement of both organizations to issue annual school safety reports yet neither report meets all statutory requirements and the data from KDE is not in the required format. Furthermore, statutory language requires districts and schools to assess safety and discipline, and for that information to be included in the KDE system. However, KDE and KCSS interpreted that requirement as a one-time assessment in the 1998-99 school year. To remedy these issues, OEA staff recommends that the General Assembly consider revising KRS 158.442 through KRS 158.449, along with KRS 158.148, to avoid confusion and clarify the roles and responsibilities assigned to KDE, KCSS, districts, and schools.
Mr. Liguori discussed alternative programs of distinction, which KDE began highlighting in 2009. It was found that seven programs deserved that title in 2016. KCSS also recognizes five model resource officer programs. A brief description of these programs is included in the report. During the course of the study, OEA staff asked KCSS school safety assessors if they knew of exemplary practices that were noted during their assessments. One such practice was a high school with an on-site medical and mental health clinic providing services to students, staff, and parents on a daily basis.
To illustrate district and school data compliance, randomly selected discipline referral forms from 2015 were copied during site visits and compared to data sent to KDE for school safety reporting purposes. Schools that were using the SWIS system were also asked to print out detailed reports so that the data could be compared to that reported in the IC system. Of the 11 schools visited, eight had data discrepancies including dates of the offense, behavior offense, deleted records, and one case where a sibling was recorded as offender rather than the student committing the offense. From such a small sample, it is not possible to determine how big this problem may be, but it does raise concerns about the accuracy of the reporting systems. It was noted by site visit schools that SWIS provides more accurate reports than the IC system. To address this issue, OEA recommends that KDE write ad hoc reports in IC that mirror the SWIS system. This would avoid double-keying of data saving time, increasing accuracy, and saving money for districts who may choose not to continue using SWIS.
Not only does KRS 158.148 have requirements for KDE, but it also requires local boards of education to adopt district codes of acceptable behavior and discipline to apply to the students in each school operated by the board. These codes are to be updated no less than every two years. It was found during site visits, however, that one district had not updated their code of acceptable behavior since 2007 and that district codes are often very broadly defined, resulting in school councils adopting their own discipline guidelines that varied from school to school within a district. Also, school codes often did not align with district codes. OEA staff recommends that the General Assembly may wish to clarify whether schools may institute codes of acceptable behavior and discipline that differ from their district’s code of acceptable behavior and discipline.
To ensure districts and schools are in compliance with Senate Bill 8 and House Bill 35 of the 2013 Regular Session regarding emergency management plans, KDE requires that the district superintendents approve various assurances during the comprehensive district improvement plan submission process. One such assurance asks if each school has developed and adhered to practices designed to ensure control of access to the school. Last year, all but one district indicated that their school met this requirement. However, during assessments, KCSS found that 66 percent of schools lack staff/visitor badges or used them inconsistently and 54 percent had security and building accessibility issues. During site visits, OEA also noted instances of schools not having evacuation routes posted in all rooms as well as evacuation routes only showing a primary route with no secondary route. As far as drill requirements, only one district had reported on its assurance that each school had not practiced earthquake drills, however 27 percent of KCSS school safety assessments reviewed did not provide the required emergency drills. Mr. Liguori said that no agency does school safety audits on a non-voluntary basis and no organization ensures that deficiencies on the voluntary audits are corrected. To address this, OEA recommends that KDE should consider adding safety compliance measures to the Statewide Consolidated Monitoring process.
Other observations of note were that five of the seven visited districts reported that one or more of their schools had received a bomb threat and an administrator expressed concern that a would-be shooter might make a bomb threat report in order to force evacuation of the building making everyone more vulnerable to a shooting attack. Administrators also had concerns with definition of bullying in Senate Bill 228 of the 2016 Regular Session that the phrases “perceived power imbalance” and “potential to be repeated” are broad and ambiguous. Schools are already struggling to educate students and parents on what bullying is and this definition was felt to make this even more difficult. Prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and synthetic marijuana were all noted as emerging issues of concern. Drugs are creating problems ranging from developmental issues to situations where students’ home conditions are affected either through the loss or imprisonment of parents or other family members. An increase in student mental health and behavior problems as a result of drugs were found during the majority of site visits. Many districts reported being ill equipped to address these issues, particularly rural and isolated districts. Finally, some urban districts reported difficulty accommodating an influx of refugee students who have little or no educational history.
Mr. Liguori also wanted to address questions raised at the safe schools update provided at the October 2015 subcommittee meeting. Regarding blank resolution codes, it was found that many reportable behavior violations resulted in a discipline code that was not mandated by the state. For example, there were 7,300 board violations with blank resolution codes, but 1,500 were due to the student receiving a form of detention which is not a state recognized resolution code. There were 365 blank resolution codes where students were removed during the regular instructional day which should have received the KDE resolution code “in school removal” and the report provided shows a complete list of blank resolution codes.
In response to questions about the transfer of special education and discipline records, administrators responded that IC was not the source of difficulty. Most small districts indicated that they maintained a cordial relationship with neighboring districts and simply phoned for further information when an issue arose. Others expressed difficulty in receiving records from large districts, however, some mentioned small districts’ lack of staff as an obstacle. While experiences varied, personnel issues posed the greatest difficulty rather than technical issues. KDE is currently working on documentation to outline the transfer of records process and this will include special education and discipline records.
A majority of schools indicated at least some concerns about the Juvenile Justice Bill (Senate Bill 200 of the 2014 Regular Session). It has increased the difficulty of handling student behavior issues. Interviewees stated that students had quickly become aware that it is unlikely they will face a judge or court ordered consequences for violations at school and this empowers them to have little respect for school officials. One district highlighted the difficulty of keeping truant students in school because the law has changed the date of court appearance for truancy to March or April, after most of the school year has been completed. Another concern was that students were not learning about consequences of rules violations. A specific example of this was a school with a student known to be dealing drugs where the strongest intervention the school could take was recommending to parents that the student be drug tested.
Cyberbullying was also a point of concern last year. Nearly every school visited had at least some issues with cyberbullying, the majority of which occurred when students were not in school. Administrators expressed concern about the large time commitment in investigating claims of cyberbullying and most agree that social media made it harder to investigate. During the 2014-15 school year, there were 73 harassing communication violations reported, of which only nine resulted in charges filed.
Chairman Kay asked to return to the section comparing Kentucky to nationwide averages and why it was that only the data regarding marijuana use was statistically significant, specifically why there was not greater confidence in the other metrics. Mr. Rupard answered that the data was drawn from samples of students from different surveys and there is a margin of error on those surveys which is greater than the difference between the Kentucky students and U.S. students.
Chairman Kay asked for further information about the assault or violence incident suspension rates and race data in Table 3.2 on page 42 of the report. Mr. Rupard responded that the table shows the assault and violence related incidents which can include assault, robbery, and similar incidents. When a student is entered into IC for a violation of that kind, the resolution must also be indicated. Looking at race as well as lunch status, OEA staff compared the students committing an assault or violence incident and their likelihood of suspension. The table shows those percentages. Chairman Kay responded that KDE should strongly consider the OEA recommendation to visit schools with very high or disproportionate rates of suspensions to understand this issue further, especially how it relates to race and economic status. He also encouraged legislators to visit these schools to understand what the legislature might be able to do to assist.
Chairman Kay commented that the concerns about substance abuse and mental health issues affecting the safety of schools was a valuable finding. The heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, particularly affecting Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, is not only killing people on the streets and destroying families, but it is penetrating into schools and reducing the safety and productivity of the learning environment. He stated that no problem is as important or has higher priority than the drug issue based on the results of this study.
Senator Wilson asked if the safety data was available by district in the report, rather than as a statewide assessment. Mr. Rupard answered that the report only includes the state level analysis, but that OEA does have data available for each district individually, but aggregation of the data provides for a more complete picture of school safety. Senator Wilson said that he agreed with that decision, but perhaps having information on individual districts would highlight specific trouble spots in need of additional investigation or support. Senator Wilson also recognized Mr. Jon Akers, director of KCSS, present in the audience and asked him if he had seen the report. Mr. Akers said he had seen the draft report, but had only received this copy of the report in the meeting. He had not had an opportunity to address any of the recommendations yet. Senator Wilson said he would appreciate hearing Mr. Akers’ response to the recommendations at a later meeting, specifically the recommendations concerning school building access and security.
Senator Wilson asked about the difference between school actions and other legal actions, specifically when a student arrest at school is not being recorded as an arrest within the reporting systems. Mr. David Wickersham, director, OEA, answered that there is some data on the number of arrests from the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council meeting where the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) reported on the total number of school complaints and issues arising from the Juvenile Justice Bill. There were approximately 52,000 out-of-school suspensions during the study period. During the 2015-16 school year, there were a total of 1,771 school based complaints filed through AOC, so approximately 2 percent of students suspended for a violation entered the court system from the violation. Additionally, regarding truancy, there were a total of 685 truancy complaints in the 2015-16 school year reported to AOC. However, there were just under 34,000 students who had more than 15 days of unexcused absences, and approximately 30,000 between 10 and 15 unexcused absences. The cut-off for truancy is only six, so there is a substantial difference between the number of cases filed and processed and the number of truant students. Mr. Wickersham stated that this probably represents a heroic effort by schools to avoid juvenile court involvement and attempt to address discipline problems within the school. Schools are likely trying to protect students from their own actions, attempting to maintain them in an academic setting, and this results in the under reporting of incidents to the police.
Representative Graham asked about the number of guns brought to school and if it was possible to know how many of these represented rural students inadvertently arriving at school with hunting related weapons in their vehicles. He also asked how many of the accidental incidents resulted in an expulsion, and if there was any information on weapons related expulsions in terms of race. Mr. Wickersham said the data had not been assembled to show a relationship between race and weapons violations. He did want to assure that the scope of the problem of weapons in schools may not be as dramatic as is portrayed in news media reports. There were only 406 weapons violations among the approximately 660,000 students attending Kentucky schools in the 2014-15 school year. While it would be hoped that there were zero violations, this is a very small percentage of total safety violations. He did say he would look into the data to see if he could provide further specifics to members.
Representative Graham also commented on how many of the problems in schools arise from students’ lack of good role models and leaders. He emphasized how this particularly affected minority students and called on hiring committees to ensure that staff and administrators at schools were representative of greater diversity, or minimally reflective of the diversity of the school population.
There being no further questions or comments, Chairman Kay announced that the next meeting of the committee will be October 18, 2016, when the committee anticipates hearing a report on the achievement gap. The committee will also be adopting the 2017 OEA research agenda at the November meeting. He encouraged members to respond to requests for research topics from staff. The meeting was adjourned at 11:08 a.m.