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Will lawmakers' legislative efforts be enough to combat Kentucky's ongoing teacher shortage?

Lawmakers passed several education bills this legislative session to address the commonwealth's ongoing teacher-shortage. How will they fair?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky's severe shortage of educators continues to persist. It's an issue that's been well documented over the last several years, which is why it was  front and center, for lawmakers heading into the 2023 legislative session.

Lawmakers seemed poised to address it. So, how are they doing?

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) educator and Jefferson County Teachers' Association (JCTA) treasurer, Maddie Shepard, says not well.

"Oh, man, bad is probably a euphemistic way to describe it," she said. "The legislature hasn't really addressed any of those things." 

Lawmakers passed a flurry of bills ahead of the ten-day veto period.

Their impacts are wide-ranging— from SB 5, which would create a process for school districts to address parents' concerns over "obscene" books to legislation that would block payroll deductions for public-sector unions like teachers unions in SB 7.

Though, the most contentious of the bills passed this session, appears to be SB 150. Its sponsors were able to get it passed by re-introducing an amended version.

Here's what the amended version of the bill includes:

  • School districts must create explicit bathroom policies
  • Bans gender-affirming care for anyone under the age of 18, including surgical and non-surgical procedures like puberty blockers
  • Schools can't discuss sexual orientation or gender identity with students regardless of age
  • If healthcare providers provide gender-affirming care to minors their licenses will be revoked
  • The school district would notify parents of any mental health services relating to human sexuality

"There is evidence that this is harmful to children and its our job to protect those children," Rep. David Meade (R-Stanford) said March 16, during a senate committee hearing over the measure.

Touted by supporters as a measure in the name of "parents' rights,' the anti-trans bill would impact educators too, Shepard said.

"I think it does inspire an adversarial relationship between teachers and parents. But it also strips professionals from making professional decisions," she said. 

However, Shepard sees some progress this session with legislation like HB 319.

The measure suggests several solutions to the state's teacher shortage, without making major appropriations since this isn't a budget year for the General Assembly.  

In part, HB 319 would expand the GoTeachKY program, require exit interviews with teachers, call for the Kentucky Department of Education to create a statewide application portal, and bring Kentucky into a compact to make the licensing process easier across state lines.  

"The devils in the details. It matters how this is applied," Shepard said. "I would say, while [JCTA] is encouraged by the efforts to address this, we are paying very much attention to the details."

She said condensing the licensing process may lead to educators with less training and less experience stepping inside classrooms.

Following the 10-day veto period, lawmakers will return to Frankfort. They'll have two days to override any of Beshear's possible vetoes. 

The last two days of the 2023 legislative session are March 29 and 30.

Contact reporter Connor Steffen at csteffen@whas11.com or on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

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