The General Assembly returns to the Capitol this week, kicking off another legislative session.
As is always the case during odd-numbered years, the House and Senate are scheduled to meet for 30 working days, with the first four set aside to elect leaders of both chambers and establish committee assignments for the next two years. We will then return in early February to begin voting on bills, wrapping up our work by the end of March.
While it is too soon to say what will ultimately become law, some of the more prominent legislation will almost certainly focus on ways we can help our children and young adults succeed, both in and out of the classroom.
With that in mind, there have been a few updated studies released in the last month or so that are giving us a much clearer picture of where we stand in that regard.
The one focused more on our schools comes from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a private organization that, among other things, is tracking how well Kentucky’s students stack up against their counterparts in other states. The long-term goal is to have them ranked among the top 20 by the year 2020.
The good news is that we’re already well on our way in many categories, according to the committee. Fourth grade science scores, for example, are fourth-best in the nation, and eighth graders’ are 17th. Fourth and eighth grade reading scores, meanwhile, are 11th and 13th, respectively.
Among older students, we’re 16th among the states in the number of full-time college students getting their two-year associates degree within three years of starting, and the committee estimates that by 2020, we’ll be in the top 20 when measuring the percentage of high school students going to college.
Some areas where progress is slow, however, include the percentage of students getting a bachelor’s degree, the number of children in preschool and the math scores for eighth graders.
Not long after the Prichard Committee issued its latest findings, Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA) issued its 22nd annual report on a variety of issues tied to the well-being of our children.
Although poverty has been a persistent challenge for most of Kentucky’s history, KYA found that the economic downturn has been especially tough here. Consider that, between 2000 and 2010, the average number of children receiving food stamps each month rose by two-thirds.
In other areas, premature births have gone up slightly in recent years, but the number of births to teenage mothers has dropped over the last decade. In other good news, the teen death rate has declined as well.
KYA also reported that more daycares are volunteering to take part in a strict quality rating system, and that the state’s preschool program is meeting nine out of the 10 benchmarks recommended by the National Institute of Early Education Research.
One area that is troubling is chronic absenteeism in school. KYA cites a national study indicating it could affect as many as 15 percent of children, and in Kentucky at least, it appears to be a larger problem among students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.
In early December, KYA publicized a separate study highlighting another major problem. In this case, it estimated that there are 110,000 teen and young adult citizens across Kentucky who are neither in school nor working, even part time. For those 20 to 24, in fact, the numbers are 88 percent higher than they were in 2000.
The hope is that the economic growth we have been seeing over the last year is helping to bring those numbers down, and it is worth noting that we have also had great success in getting non-traditional students back into school. Still, the need to do more is there, and will be among the leading concerns when the General Assembly returns early next month.
For now, whether it is this issue or any other affecting the state, I encourage you to let me know your thoughts or concerns, because your input is critical. If you would like to reach me or any legislator and leave a message, please call 800-372-7181. For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.