The following is information regarding our commonwealth and its fiscal status as that will directly impact the state contributions to each of the pension systems and funding for educational needs.
The Legislative Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue met last week, August 19, in Frankfort. The outlook for the 2020-21 fiscal budget for the state is looking grim. State Budget Director John Hicks testified that all federal stimulus relief aid to the state has ended. KY received $15.4 billion in stimulus money, but also received $1.6 billion for local and state governments. Governor Beshear borrowed $865 million from the federal government to shore up the state's failing unemployment trust fund that is repayable for years to come. Governor Beshear did not consult the General Assembly regarding this loan, and the payments to the federal government will add an additional burden to state revenue that was not approved or calculated through the state budget process, nor approved by any of the legislative leadership.
Mr. Hicks added that the state lost 283,000 jobs which is 14% of the state's employment. In the months of April, May, and June of 2020, state revenue declined by 4.5 percent, sales and use tax declined by 5.9 percent, withholding taxes declined by 5.5 percent, business taxes declined by 16.5 percent, and wages declined by 16 percent. Hicks stated that the leisure and hospitality industry saw a decline of 15 percent employment, and various legislators stated that tourism in all parts of the state have seen visitors drop from thousands visiting KY scenic sites to only a few hundred. All of these factors put state revenue into a serious fiscal decline.
Many of you may be aware of the webcasts and various virtual meetings that teachers and administrators are having with KDE. In many of these webcasts, the continuous question comes forth about when schools can open with in-person school.
It has come to our attention during these webcasts, that Dr. Connie White, a medical doctor who is the the Deputy Commissioner at the KY Department of Public Health, has stated many times the problems associated with producing accurate numbers for Covid positivity rates. In her own words, she has said, "The positivity rates are not clear and solid." In addition, Dr. White stated that labs in KY are not statutorily required to report the negative test results, so the DPH does not have "good county and regional numbers." Furthermore, both Dr. White and Dr. Steven Stack, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, cannot produce any metric that would indicate safe numbers or safe situations to persuade the Governor to stop issuing "recommendations" to school districts regarding in-person classes. It is also interesting to note that Dr. White, who is advising KDE daily, comes from a private practice in Frankfort where she was an OB/GYN physician. Dr. Stack comes from a background of practicing medicine in emergency rooms and trauma units in Tennessee, and medical training in Ohio. He was appointed by Governor Beshear in February of this year. Neither doctor's background states any training or practice in the field of epidemiology or infectious diseases.
Please remember to contact your local school board members and legislators regarding your own opinions about situations that are on-going in Kentucky. The General Assembly convenes in January 2021. There are many bills that have already been prefiled, and you can find them at legislature.ky.gov.
It is extremely disappointing to many of you that getting face-to-face time with your students has been delayed yet again. After a Superintendents' Webinar on Monday, Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown issued this statement after the Governor's announcement of another delay:
"I know it was hard to hear, but I believe this is sound judgement and I hope you take his request seriously. This request has my full support and I will be working with any district that chooses to ignore this recommendation."
Many districts took Mr. Brown's words with their intent, and believed that the Governor's "recommendation" wasn't a recommendation at all, but is expected to be obeyed. Knowing that KDE does not have authority to overturn nor regulate the decisions of local boards of education comprised of duly elected members, we have no answers as to what Mr. Brown means by this statement. Seeing as how local districts had plans for re-opening approved by local health departments, we can make no assumption in how KDE plans to use local health departments in punishing those who want to open schools. In addition, we have been asked what KAPE's stand is on school closing/opening. Our statement is that our job is not to usurp the authority of local boards of education. Their authority is mandated by the state constitution, and KAPE is not in the business of circumventing decisions made by local boards whose members are elected by local citizens. Board members answer to the voters who elect them.
Furthermore, it is a fact that too many KY students do not have access to high speed internet nor electronics to make distance/virtual/NTI learning possible. News sources in Louisville have stated that large districts are scrambling to set up hotspots for students, and we are certain wifi connections are non-existent in other areas of KY. In addition, numerous districts that planned to make Chromebooks available to students have been notified that production of those devices is woefully behind. We fail to understand how many impoverished students could possibly hope to make progress, but local boards of education are making these difficult decisions with the limitations put forth by Mr. Brown and the Governor. We highly recommend that you and your family members make your opinions vocal to your local board members in how you feel in this matter. State representatives would like to know how their constituents feel also. Please contact your state senator and representative to voice your opinion. You can find contact information at www.legislature.ky.gov.
On some good news, KDE is allegedly developing some regulations for local boards to implement additional emergency leave for their employees. Please contact your local human resources director or administrator to see what your board has accepted and approved in extending and granting emergency leave.
We continue to answer questions regarding your employment rights and responsibilities. Please contact us with concerns, and if you need to have a further discussion with our attorneys, we will help you with making a connection for legal advice. It's free and unlimited!
By now, most know that schools have delayed the opening dates by two weeks or more. About 10 days ago, the CDC and other professional pediatric organizations recommended that children return to school in person. It is a difficult time to determine how best to return to school while protecting staff and teachers. On July 29, the Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services of the Legislature met in Frankfort. A grave concern was discussed regarding drastic increases in domestic violence, overdoses, and suicide deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Lawmakers are especially concerned about the Governor's mandates and how they are impacting physical and mental well being for Kentuckians and school children.
The Clark County sheriff reported that suicide attempts are up over 600 percent, with fatal overdoses increased by 42 percent in another county. Doug Thoroughman, epidemiologist for the Department of Public Health, testified that there is a definite climb in fatal overdoses statewide.
With this in mind, please be aware of signs and indicators of your students' mental health or what they are dealing with at home when school does open. Schools are a lifeline for many students, and possibly the only outside contact many have. School staff are one of the main sources of protection and reporting for abuse of minors.
In addition, superintendents have been notified by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Executive Adviser Mark Carter that contact tracers are now in every local health department in KY. There are currently 430 contact tracers with an additional 260 expected to be added soon. Some points noted:
*Contact tracers will never ask for social security numbers, passwords, banking information, or immigration status.
*Contact tracers will be asking for details of people you have been with and places you have visited.
New recommendations have been issued by the CDC. Emily Messerli, DPH manager, has said some of their new recommendations call for plexiglass shields to be used in classes with young children or special needs students who cannot wear masks. The dividers should not be used just to fit more students in a classroom, and must meet guidelines for safety and cleanliness. The CDC has now recommended a 10 day quarantine, rather than 14 days, and people only need to be fever-free for 24 hours. A negative Covid test is not required for return to school. Only those with a new uncontrolled cough which causes trouble breathing should be sent home, rather than those suffering from asthma or allergies who might have a chronic cough.
Associate Commissioner Rob Akers of KDE has announced that districts may now allow flexibility for teachers to teach up or down grade levels. Districts are urged to apply for emergency certification when needed.
If anyone is asked to sign a waiver regarding Covid 19, we urge you to read the waiver thoroughly and to ask questions. KAPE's membership attorneys will be glad to assist you in reviewing your employment rights and responsibilities if you have questions about such waivers. Please ask questions BEFORE signing any document, and never sign any document which you do not understand. Please contact us for questions or concerns.
As time draws near for schools to open, we understand that there are concerns and worries about how to safely open schools. There have been numerous guidelines developed by KDE that will help administrators and districts in finalizing their plans. KDE strongly urges districts and administrators to communicate their plans to their staff so that they have the information they need to help calm fears. When information is not adequate, there is a tendency for rumors to fill the gaps. I urge all KAPE members to communicate inquiries to their administrators about safety protocols, and to make certain you understand what is expected of you. If there is any type of PPE that you believe will keep someone safe, please make a request to your appropriate administrator. If you have questions regarding sick leave, emergency leave, or taking a leave of absence, please direct those to your central office, as each district is developing their own policies. Nothing has been legislated state-wide for additional sick pay, emergency leave, sick leave, or other options. It is being developed by your district IF there are any changes to your regular sick leave pay or policies.
On Thursday, July 23, KDE is hosting a town hall for educators and staff at 2:00 PM Eastern Time. Representatives from the Department of Public Health will be on the town hall to respond to question about expectations. Anyone can ask questions during the town hall, as long as the questions are related to state-level topics and are not specific to your district plans or policies. You can access the town hall at https://app.gosoapbox.com, enter the access code: KDEtownhall.
Three more guidance documents were released today and can be found on the KDE website at education.ky.gov. You can also go to the COVID-19 Reopening Resources webpage link and find a section that lists state vendors and what items can be purchased from them such as masks, wipes, glove, and hand sanitizer. Please communicate with your administrators regarding any special items that you believe a student or you might need.
If you have any questions or wish to talk with any of us at KAPE, including our membership attorneys, please call our office. In addition, we would like to announce that we have completed all negotiations for our upcoming liability policy for members that becomes effective August 1, 2020 until July 31, 2021. This is the finest coverage ever developed for educators with benefits that surpasses all other organizations, and all other policies we have ever carried. This is a unique plan that has astounded us with the benefits and coverages we are now able to offer our members, including education students in post-secondary programs. We will be sending you an email explaining this coverage in the very near future, as well as putting the information on our website. Our brokers, who negotiate and develop policies for administrators and boards of education all across the nation, have said they have never seen a policy like this one in the benefits and coverage. And we did it without passing any further increases in costs to our members.
By now, most everyone knows about the annual school events that have been canceled, such as proms, graduations, KPREP, in addition to the usual in-person evaluations. Districts are ending the school year based on when they finish the hourly compiled instructional hours mandated by KDE. It is perplexing to try to begin to know how districts will pass or fail students based on their participation by time on the internet or how NTI is working for everyone. We do know one thing- students have missed out on priceless and valuable face-to-face instruction from their talented teachers who are missing their students more than ever. We sincerely hope the 2020-21 school year is much better.
For your information, KDE has signed a contract with a search firm, Greenwood/Ashe & Associates Inc., to execute a search for the next Kentucky Commissioner of Education. The contract is effective through June 30, 2020, and was priced at $149,050.00. They are based in Miramar Beach, Florida. There is a copy of the contract on the KDE website.
To show appreciation for Kentucky educators, Eastern Kentucky University is offering a tuition discount for all graduate teacher education programs taken this summer. EKU has reduced tuition to $395 per credit hour, and you must be an active teacher in the state while enrolled in summer classes. Applications must be received by May 5, 2020 to qualify. Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) programs are not eligible. We have not received word of any other institution offering similar discounts, but they are usually all on board with similar special programs. Check with a corresponding higher education institution in your area for questions.
Please remember to spread the word regarding our promotion at this time. New members can join KAPE now, and pay nothing in membership until August or their first pay period, whichever is later. If you know someone who is interested, please share this news with them. We also offer first year teachers a fantastic one-year price of $50 for a full year's coverage. Our regular membership fees are $200 for a single person, $350 for a married couple, whether or not you are in the same district. Please ask prospective members to go to our website at Kentuckyteachers.org to view our philosophy and to sign up. Our liability coverage and legal services cannot be surpassed by any other organization. Due to our possibly not being able to visit schools and districts when they open in August, we will be very limited on getting the word out to new teachers about our phenomenal services. Help your colleagues save money, and help them protect their career. If you have college students in your family, they can have liability coverage for student classes for free! If you are interested in passing on this information, we can email an electronic version of a flyer or mail you paper copies to have on hand if school resumes. Let us know, and help us out.
Call our office at 888-438-7179, email at email@example.com. Our offices are not staffed, but the phones are being remotely answered. Do not hesitate to call us with a problem or question.
We hope that everyone is safe and well with as little stress as possible during this COVID pandemic. We understand the worry and concern regarding your students, as well as the worry for your own families, our economic stability, and the harrowing reports coming from large metropolitan areas. Our prayers are with you, our state, and our nation.
Many districts are on spring break during this week, and we have heard numerous reports from those being asked to report back to work in the upcoming days. After spending an entire day in verifying national, state, and local guidelines, talking with legislators and administrators, and attempting to get clarification from KDE (which did not respond to our questions), we can tell you a few facts about being asked to report and to continue delivery of services. We have also done some research on unauthorized sources calling for employees to invoke "emergency leave."
At the federal level, guidelines have been implemented that "emergency leave" can be granted to someone who was exposed to the COVID virus, with a quarantine for 14 days. Anyone who has symptoms of the COVID virus can also be eligible for emergency leave, with isolation implemented.
However, at the state level, the Governor has not set forth any clear guidelines for a threshold mandating "emergency leave." He has mandated that schools are "Essential Services," meaning that school districts are not closed, and that NTI duties and food services are to remain in place. Currently, only your local school board can approve ANY leave for an employee, and your local school board must also set forth guidelines for that approved leave. The same board would also adopt policies regarding whether or not an employee would qualify for being paid during approved leave and the duration of same leave and pay. In addition to setting policy for the district and employees, every school district has been mandated TO CONTINUE TO DELIVER SERVICES TO STUDENTS. In order to continue to deliver mandated services, including special ed, GT, and 504, staff must continue to follow the direction of their administration and board policy until further guidelines are adopted by your local board of education. If you have questions, you must contact your local administration for their guidelines. Do not listen to rumor or conjecture. Follow local policy in order to remain being paid by your district.
There are 172 school districts in Kentucky. We at KAPE have no idea what each district will adopt for approved emergency leave. Boards must meet and decide how they will continue to keep schools delivering services during this pandemic while protecting their employees and administrators. We have verified that many districts are following CDC guidelines in limiting contact with students and families, isolating paperwork, as well as limiting contact within their buildings among employees. Local health departments are guiding districts in their practices.
The Ethics Commission in Frankfort closed the Capitol to non-essential personnel almost a month ago to prevent contact with legislators and staff. ALL lobbyists, visitors, or any other non-essential person were barred from having any type of meeting with legislators or their staff, and KAPE continued to monitor the session from KET CCTV. Yesterday, April 1, a final budget was completed by the General Assembly and will be submitted to the Governor. This final budget keeps SEEK funding at the 2018-19 level, provided no raises to any state employee or teacher, maintains single healthcare coverage for retirees, and estimated that between $160-175 million shortfall would happen in this budget cycle. Furthermore, the General Assembly constructed a budget only for one year in order to have more accurate projections for incoming funds. A second year's budget will be constructed either by special session or during the 2021 session. The Governor now has until April 13 to either veto or sign the budget and all other bills that were passed. On April 14-15, the General Assembly will meet to override any vetoes.
We advise our members to contact your local administrators for truth and information regarding your reporting and district policies. Every administrator we have spoken with has been more than accommodating in explaining their own concerns and expectations. Please have a dialogue within your district with those who are doing their best to deliver essential services. You are more valued than you realize, and we at KAPE certainly value our members immensely. We will be glad to answer questions that we can help with, but if you have questions about your local policy, we urge you to contact your supervisor or administrator.
As of last Wednesday, March 18, all public school districts in KY had submitted their NTI plans to the state BOE to be approved, which they were. Currently, legislation is being approved to allow schools unlimited NTI days, as they have been statutorily allowed only 10 days. Other legislation is being worked on to guarantee funding to schools during this crisis. It's a process, and it takes time to get the legislation passed.
The General Assembly shut down March 13 and 16. They convened March 17-19, and then adjourned until March 26. On March 19, the Senate passed their version of the state budget. The House had previously passed their version. It is now up to legislators in both chambers to hammer out a compromise before they submit it to the Governor by April 2. The Governor has until April 13 to veto what he will not sign. The GA will then meet again April 14-15 to override any vetoes.
Please understand how our state constitution works. If the GA adjourned sine die after giving a budget to the Governor at this time, they would lose the power to override any vetoes. The leadership of both chambers has asked the Governor to allow a special session for them to return to override his vetoes if they adjourn sine die now. At this time, the Governor has refused to do so. Therefore, the Legislative leadership has stated that they will not adjourn sine die until the constitutionally required dates. According to the constitution, the people are directly represented by the Legislature. The people would lose a final say in the budget process if the Legislature is not given their powers to override the Governor's vetoes.
If you have comments or opinions for your legislator, please contact them at 800-372-7181 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There have been numerous questions from across the state regarding their local district's decision in how they are using NTI for the current school closures during the Coronavirus emergency. Here is what districts are deciding upon:
NTI is an instructional option that several school districts across the state have implemented, and it is usually required that districts apply for that opportunity before the school year begins. However, due to the recent declaration of emergency by the Governor, the Department of Education is asking the state Board of Education at their meeting next week to give a blanket waiver to school districts across the state. This has not been approved yet, but it is expected to happen. In addition, the Governor has recommended that staff be permitted to stay home as well, but it is not a mandate. Currently, NTI instruction may be used for only 10 school days.
In order to receive an NTI waiver, the application must first be approved by the district's local board of education. Districts must have included in the application their plans to deliver instruction, as well as how they plan to record student participation. The plans will include how staff will participate and how they will interact with the students. It would be up to each individual district how to plan for their staff, because if staff is not participating in NTI or student interaction, you would have to make those days up per your contract. If staff does participate in daily NTI, those days would count as contractual work days. Again, it is up to each individual district in how the local board of education decides to implement an NTI waiver and continue instruction.
School districts across the state are calling off school attendance in many varied ways. There is no blanket plan across the Commonwealth because your local school district is responsible for their plan. Many districts have no previous plan in place because they have not applied for participation in the 2019-20 year. Therefore, many districts have to get this developed, in writing, and then approved by their local boards before announcing to the public.
We are hoping everyone stays well. We understand this is going to be a tremendous burden for working parents and their childcare arrangements. Be safe!