Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
LOUISVILLE, KY – Last week’s special session entered our minds and news feeds as quickly as it has now disappeared. Alongside the Beshear Administration and members of the General Assembly, we will continue to assess the results with an eye towards the 2022 legislative session and two-year state budget.
As we shared in our initial statement on the special session, there is no group of Kentuckians that deserves decisive action more than our young people – and the good news is that call to action was heard loud and clear by our leaders in Frankfort. Here are a few bright spots for kids:
- Legislated the option for school districts to use the emerging “Test and Stay” best practices to keep students healthy and learning.
- Included the next iteration of non-traditional instruction with flexibility for the parameters around days used.
- Began to address workforce needs in schools by allowing local school district to employ individuals who comply with required background checks to serve as short- or long-term substitute teachers.
- Allowed quarantines and shutdowns to be class-, grade level-, and school-based and not district-based until December 31st.
- Designated discretionary funds for pandemic relief to implement testing measures to ensure safety from COVID-19.
We are, however, left with some puzzling considerations as we approach 2022 and further understand the compounding impact of the pandemic.
- There was a lack of consistency of when the local control principle best fits. For example, the legislature provided local decision-making power on when a school district may revise its school calendar yet ensured remote instruction may only be provided to a particular school, grade, classroom, or group of students for up to 20 days. Additionally, the legislation requires educators to report to school building during non-traditional instruction, making it unclear whether local school districts should be able to make that decision for their staff.
- Missed the opportunity to create a transparent and consistently updated dashboard around pandemic data on a school-by-school basis, to ensure appropriate masking protocol within school districts, and to emphasize the need to assess student progress.
- Overlooked the chance to designate categorical funding for school districts to leverage Medicaid matches as seed capital for school-based health and mental health supports.
- Missed the opportunity to address the impact of the pandemic on our most vulnerable within the child welfare system by bolstering funds for the DCBS workforce or to strengthen supports for older youth as they age out of foster care with employment and housing services. Time and time again, the General Assembly has demonstrated its commitment to kids’ safety, yet strengthening the system addressing child maltreatment and protection was not a priority during the special session.
- Did not dedicate supports for Kentucky’s struggling child care sector. As we look ahead to 2022, we can best support our child care centers and the families and communities they serve by prioritizing the retention and recruitment of employees and relieving parents of child care co-pays.
With January quickly approaching, there is immense opportunity for an expansive and equitable pandemic recovery for all Kentucky kids and their families. We call on the General Assembly and the Beshear Administration to take the next steps on these missed opportunities from the special session. And we call on local school boards to adhere to age and developmental guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control around how best to keep kids safely in school and support COVID-19 vaccination efforts in their districts.
Kids count on their leaders in Frankfort – and in their communities – to speak up for them and make decisions that will keep them healthy, safe, and hopeful.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.