A Dose of Their Own Medicine, Perhaps
House Bill 208 (#HB208), the “back-to-school bill,” started out with good intentions, or so they were led to believe.
It was positioned to some legislators as a “funding bill.” They were told districts needed this new language in order for SEEK dollars to follow students because after the GOP stripped the governor of his executive powers, doing so was illegal. You see, after February 1, the governor was no longer authorized to use his executive powers to allow districts to continue on NTI longer than 10 days during a pandemic. This was one of several powers recently stripped from Kentucky’s governor. Another one was the Governor’s ability to reappoint boards and committees, such as the Pension Oversight Board. (More about that later.)
The GOP disingenuously stated this move was not a power grab. Yet two years earlier, Senate President Stivers spoke out of the other side of his mouth when he admonished our objection to the appointment of Bevin’s pro-privatization Board of Education, when he pressured the Senate to confirm pro-voucher board member Gary Houchens to KBE. Back then he believed the governor had the constitutional right to appoint people to boards and committees. Funny how they no longer feel that way now that Bevin is out.
So, what was wrong with HB208 in its original form? Well, it contained language that could force districts to provide in-person learning in order to qualify for the SEEK funding. One source claimed that after a $75,000 lobbying effort from KDE (I’m not sure how they know that), an amendment was added that made the bill “better” for districts like JCPS, who don’t have the infrastructure (and haven’t for decades, which is why we are making all these changes and needing to raise property taxes), by taking a bill that was going to force all districts to reopen to qualify for their funding, and adding an amendment that would provide exceptions for our most at-risk families to remain on NTI. That’s a good thing, right?
But alas, that was not their goal! So now groups like BIPPS and “Let them Learn” (mostly privileged white parents) are upset!
HB208 passed the House 87-8 last week and just passed out of Senate Education committee today 8-2, with a brand new substitution, which will once again force districts to reopen by March 29. It overrides the local school board’s authority on deciding to remain on NTI until our community knows it’s safe. The JCPS Board had already taken the initiative and voted in favor of a March 17 return date, apparently thinking that would call off the dogs. But it didn’t, did it?
During the committee meeting, the argument was even made that since the JCPS Board voted to return in person in anticipation of the passage of this bill, it was an implied endorsement of a bill, even though many members of JCPS board knew the bill was harmful. They played their defensive hand and left us exposed, once again.
This reminds me of a similar time the JCPS Board of Education voted 4-3 to accept the state takeover compromise with a wild swing vote from my own Board member. I even spoke at the following Board meeting to admonish her and others for giving away their constituents’ power by accepting the compromise deal from Bevin’s corrupt KBE and Commissioner, instead of holding out for our “day in court” against an ever-looming state takeover. (Someday you will need to ask me about the role white JCTA leadership played in all of this with #OurJCPS.)
Structural racism refers to the totality of ways in which societies foster racial discrimination through mutually reinforcing systems of housing, education, employment, earnings, benefits, credit, media, health care, and criminal justice. These patterns and practices in turn reinforce discriminatory beliefs, values, and distribution of resources.
It’s a pattern. But I digress…
Judging by the two guests who spoke in opposition to the bill in today’s elusive Senate Education Committee Meeting, it would seem that the scheming GOPers who had this brilliant idea for a bill to force schools to reopen, suddenly wanted to KILL THE BILL to fund districts operating on NTI! As if to say, “If we can’t force others to do education our way, NO ONE SHOULD be educated!” With the passage of today’s committee sub, the possibility that the option that allows some students to remain on NTI and still receive SEEK funding could be taken away from districts like JCPS becomes even more real. One JCPS teacher told us they are now being told to plan to return on March 22, and according to the bill language, students would be required to return in person no later than March 29, 2021.
Cheaters never win.
I think the GOP’s ALEC-friendly lawmakers’ original scheme has backfired. Their intentions of putting the wants of a privileged few above the lives of some of the district’s most vulnerable. But what everyone keeps forgetting is that it has not passed. There are some who want it killed. There are others who want it passed but don’t want to take away the local decision-making authority. But only those who truly understand systemic racism and the impacts on our students, educators and families of color, know that there is no deal with the devil that is good enough for our students.
Now that the intent-on-corruption legislators had successfully retroactively made the Governor’s executive orders to extend NTI beyond 10 days illegal, their next scheme was to force everyone back to in-person schooling so they can make sure they can administer their almighty tests. Certain lawmakers showed us today that this is an effort to control JCPS, because we are not complying with their scheme. The entire meeting, which you can watch below, seemed to carry the theme “What’s wrong with JCPS?,” and “If they can’t make good decisions, we will make their decisions for them.”
You can watch the entire meeting here:
Kentucky legislators keep passing bad bills, instead of solving the problems they are creating. Maybe these 8 Kentucky House Reps who voted “Nay” against their fellow educator bill sponsors, knew HB208 was a Trojan Horse all along? We will find out because after it passes the Senate it will be back to the House for another vote or amendment. Perhaps die-hard GOP party line toe-ers will come out against it and when the Dems who voted against catch on to their scheme, maybe they will switch their votes and vote yes. Maybe it will die in the House because the bill sponsors realize they’ve been duped, or they get cold feet, and it never gets called back to the floor.
What I do know is we should all be paying better attention. Because voters, taxpayers, teachers and parents are getting screwed. We should all contact our House Reps and make them aware these schemers are up to something. My Rep is Tina Bojanowski, one of the bill co-sponsors, a JCPS educator and JCTA member, and you can bet I’ve been texting back and forth with her quite a bit today.
Once our Representatives know to look for side and back room deals, even if they don’t understand it all just yet, ask them to start poking around. For those that are starting to get it, ask them if they feel like they’ve been played? I know some JCPS school board members do. In fact, Joe Marshall was our guest on this past Monday’s People’s Agenda meeting where we shared our concerns about some of these possibilities. #NowAreYouStartingToGetIt?
When will white lawmakers in Frankfort take their knees off Black JCPS students’ and educators’ necks?
In closing, the real question is, will HB208 accomplish its original goal to force vulnerable high-minority population districts like JCPS to go back in person before it’s safe for us to do so? And if so, for what? Just so they can force students to take abusive tests that benefit them in now way, while also dealing with trauma, loss, and health concerns that have been amplified, along with already existing learning gaps and racial injustices by a pandemic, and as Breonna Taylor’s school district, as the epicenter for the movement for Black Female Lives? Or will the scheming radical GOP special interest groups, like BIPPS and Let Them Learn, be able to kill their own bill, leaving other ways to continue their assaults on public education by tying up the governor’s authority in endless lawsuits and threatening to strip away funding for districts like JCPS that don’t reopen in person by their rushed timeline?
HB208 continues to carry a great deal of uncertainty, forcing a district the size of JCPS to leave hundreds of thousands of lives in the lurch, swinging wildly back and forth with every tweak of the bill.
Instead, wouldn’t it be great if our local elected officials would have the fortitude to stand up and say, “We are Jefferson County’s duly elected school board officials and we will NO LONGER allow outsiders to make our decisions for us!”? We are in a pandemic after all. And a movement for Black Lives.
Ignore the outsiders. We elected YOU to make decisions for our district, not them. You say you’re about racial justice? You say you want to dismantle structural racism? Well, stand up and fight for what’s best for our most vulnerable JCPS populations. If not now, when?
This story is developing and may be updated. Send questions. corrections or clarifications to firstname.lastname@example.org.