Education

A debate over how to teach religion to public school students in Tennessee is rocking school districts around the state. Activists and concerned parents worry middle school students are being “indoctrinated” with a sanitized version of Islam.

The issue has made its way to the state legislature. One proposal would restrict discussion of religion until the end of high school. Chas Sisk of Here & Now contributor WPLN has the story.

The president of Western Kentucky University warned of layoffs and program eliminations in testimony before state lawmakers Thursday in Frankfort. 

Governor Matt Bevin’s proposed budget would cut higher education funding by 4.5 percent for the remainder of this year, and nine percent for the next two years.  Dr. Gary Ransdell says that’s hard for him to explain to campus faculty and staff.

"It's one thing for the past eight years when we were getting our budgets cut.  We were in a recession and the state had declining revenues," Ransdell told WKU Public Radio.  "State revenues are up significantly this year and the consensus forecast for the next biennium is a significant increase in state revenues, and we're still cutting higher education."

The state’s public colleges and universities have lost more than $173 million since 2008.  President Ransdell says it’s frustrating that nationally, most states are re-investing in higher education while Kentucky is “re-trenching further.”

Governor Bevin says the cuts to state agencies are needed to help fully fund Kentucky’s public pension systems.

Tens of thousands of Tennessee students steadied their clammy, test-day hands over a keyboard several days ago. And, for many, nothing happened.

It was the state's first time giving standardized exams on computers, but the rollout couldn't have gone much worse.

In lots of places, the testing platform slowed to a crawl or appeared to shut down entirely. Within hours, Tennessee scrapped online testing for the year.

The move comes after schools spent millions of dollars to buy additional PCs and to improve their wi-fi networks.

Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons

Kentucky’s new education commissioner says proposed state budget cuts would hurt a range of school services including preschool and efforts to bolster reading and math skills.

Commissioner Stephen Pruitt told state lawmakers on Wednesday that Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed cuts in the current fiscal year and in the next two years would affect school districts statewide.

He says the full brunt of the cuts can’t be totally absorbed at state Department of Education headquarters. The central office accounts for a fraction of the overall education budget.

Pruitt praised Bevin for sparing the state’s main funding formula for K-12 education from the cuts.

But he says the governor’s proposed cuts in the current year and in the next two years could hurt extended school services, professional development and school safety programs.

WFPL News

Top officials at the University of Louisville are denying a news report that President James Ramsey is considering retiring from the university.

Citing unnamed sources, WHAS-11 anchor Doug Proffitt reported Tuesday night that Ramsey held a private meeting at his home with a small group of trustees last weekend, at which he discussed a “roadmap” to retire. Proffitt’s story came after Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones reported something similar on his radio show.

Kathleen Smith, Ramsey’s chief of staff and perhaps his closest ally at U of L, said in an email to WFPL News on Wednesday morning that Proffitt’s story is “totally false.”

Reached Wednesday afternoon, U of L Foundation board chair Dr. Robert Hughes echoed Smith, saying the report is “absolutely false.”

WKU

Western Kentucky University is encouraging American workplaces to nurture and support female leaders.

A one-day conference on Friday, Feb. 19, is called Women Leading and includes talks given by women who have achieved leadership positions in academia and the military.

WKU communications professor Cecile Garmon says conference organizers hope to broaden the definition of the word “leadership”.

“If young women and young men realize that leadership is not masculine or feminine—it’s leadership—then both groups can do it, and they can both learn from each other and support each other,” Garmon told WKU Public Radio.

Garmon says the subject started getting more attention following comments made by Facebook Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg about the low number of women leading Fortune 500 companies.  

The Women Leading conference will feature talks by:

University of Louisville

Less than a day after a member of the University of Louisville’s investigative committee looking into allegations of prostitution within the men’s basketball program spoke out against the school’s decision to self-impose a postseason ban, the university is attempting to clarify the committee’s role.

It is the first time any U of L official has spoken publicly about details of the committee, despite inquiries from WFPL and other media for more information.

The statement from U of L also comes after men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino last week told a national ESPN radio show that Athletic Director Tom Jurich made the decision to keep the team out of the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments this season. The school had previously said it was U of L President James Ramsey’s call, and reiterated that in a statement today.

U of L Professor Ricky Jones, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department and a member of the investigative committee, told The Courier-Journal on Monday that he disagreed with the decision to self-impose a ban.

“There was nothing we saw that implicated anyone but Andre McGee,” Jones told the C-J.

KCTCS

Kentucky’s improving economy is driving steep declines in community college enrollment, but the head of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System says those schools are not losing their relevance.  In an interview with WKU Public Radio, Dr. Jay Box said community colleges remain key in building a stronger workforce which translates into a stronger middle class.

Box:  We are the primary provider of workforce education and training in all states and we realize the jobs that our graduates get are those middle class jobs, the jobs that are so important in our economy.

Autry:  You were recently appointed to a national community college board called Reclaiming America’s Middle Class.  One of its missions is to promote community colleges and the role they play in serving students, whether right out of high school or adult learners who perhaps are coming from jobs into the classroom.  Talk about some of the priorities of this national board.

LRC Public Information

Supporters of legislation to push back the opening date for many Kentucky school districts are pointing to a study claiming the early return to school costs the state millions of dollars.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the travel industry commissioned the study to support a bill to prevent districts from starting classes before late August. Many districts resume school in early August, cutting nearly of month of potential business for the travel industry.

The study says the state lost $432 million in lost tourism-related business between July and August 2014.

Sen. Chris Girdler of Somerset is sponsoring the bill, which would set the opening date for schools no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

Some groups are opposed to the legislation. Kentucky Education Association spokesman Charles Main says the bill would take away the flexibility for school districts to set their own dates for starting school.

Two weeks after Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell announced plans to retire next year, the process to find his successor has officially begun. 

In a special meeting Friday afternoon, the WKU Board of Regents appointed a search committee of mostly current and former regents.  Search Committee Chairman Dr. Phillip Bale told WKU Public Radio that the seven-member group could be expanded.

"Western Kentucky University involves more than just the university," stated Bale.  "Obviously, it's a very important part of Bowling Green and this surrounding region, so we'll be looking to see if there's any other stakeholders who need a voice or larger voice than what we have right now."

The presidential search committee will include:

  • Dr. Phillip Bale, Chair and current Regent
  • Dr. Barbara Burch, current Faculty Regent
  • Mrs. Cynthia Harris, current Board of Regent's Secretary
  • Mrs. Julie Hinson, WKU Alumni Association President
  • Mr. James Meyer, former Board of Regents Chairman
  • Mr. Jay Todd Richey, current Student Regent
  • Dr. Tamela Smith, current Staff Regent

The Board of Regents also voted to immediately issue a request for proposals from executive search firms.  The deadline to submit proposals will be March 2, 2016.

The search committee hopes to have the candidate pool narrowed to no more than five finalists by this December with the selection of a new president by March 2017. 

This will only be the seventh presidential search in the 110-year history of the university.  Dr. Ransdell has said that he will not be a part of the search process.

KCTCS

The head of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System has been appointed to a new national board that advocates for the needs of community colleges. 

KCTCS President Jay Box says the board called “Reclaiming America’s Middle Class” promotes the value of community colleges to students, communities, and the economy. He says that’s something often not wellunderstood by policy makers.

"We are the primary provider of workforce education and training in all states, and we realize that the jobs our graduates get are those middle class jobs, the jobs that are so important in our economy," Box told WKU Public Radio.

The board has several priorities, including an expansion of Pell Grants for summer classes. Box says that would help students complete their education quicker and with less cost. 

The board is made up of leaders from the nation’s largest community college systems.  KCTCS has 16 schools and 70 campus locations.

Owensboro Public Schools

Students in two Owensboro elementary schools now have new ways to cut down on fidgeting and concentrate on their work. That's thanks to new desks. 

Estes Elementary got 10 pedal desks for kindergarten classes. The desks look a little like a tricycle with a desk on top. They allow students to get a little exercise while learning.

Sutton Elementary got 39 standing desks that give students the choice of standing up or sitting on a stool. The desks are similar to what you might see in an art or design studio.

Fourth grade teacher Gina Davis has most of the standing desks in her classroom. 

"The students are definitely more focused and they love using them," says Davis. "Many students choose to stand the whole time. I've never said they have to stand or they have to sit, but they're choosing to do a lot of standing."

She’s been teaching for 20 years and says she’s already seen a difference since the new desks came in a few weeks ago.    

WKU

Governor Matt Bevin wants to influence any performance-based funding model used by Kentucky universities.

The leaders of the state’s public schools and the Council on Postsecondary Education have been working for 18 months on a proposed formula for any new funding they receive.

But not only are universities not in line to receive new funding in the next state budget, they’re facing significant cuts.

Western Kentucky University Vice President of Public Affairs Robbin Taylor says Bevin has indicated he wants any such model to be based largely on how well schools help address workforce development needs.

Taylor says she thinks schools now have to re-evaluate what they’ve been working on.

"I don't want to say this negates all that, but it sort of puts all that on hold. As the Governor has indicated, he didn't think it went far enough, and he'd like to be a part of making those decisions, and has indicated his desire to work with the university presidents and the Council on Postsecondary Education to come up with those measures."

WKU

WKU President Gary Ransdell announced at Friday's Board of Regents meeting in Elizabethtown that he is retiring effective June 30, 2017.

He said he wanted to give the school ample time to find a successor. He will have served as WKU President for 20 years by the time he leaves the post.

Ransdell said picking the right time to step aside has been something he and his wife, Julie, have been discussing for a while.

"We want to do this on our terms, and this has been an incredible 19 years so far, and will be an incredible 20 years," Ransdell told WKU Public radio.  "We just felt like our health is good and I've seen so many people in this job retire and not have the best of circumstances with their health."

In an email to faculty and staff,   Ransdell said he believes he has fulfilled the commitment he made in 1997 to transform the university. 

"WKU is a dramatically different institution today than it was 20 years ago – financially, physically, intellectually and attitudinally.  Serving my alma mater has been a dream come true," said Ransdell.

WKU

In an e-mail to faculty and staff late Wednesday afternoon, WKU President Gary Ransdell said Governor Matt Bevin's proposed budget cuts to higher education present a substantial challenge to the university.

Bevin's proposal calls for a 4.5 percent budget cut this fiscal year. That translates to $3.3 million out of WKU's budget by the end of June. Nine percent reductions would go into effect after that.

"There are many details of this plan that are yet to be understood, and with regard to performance funding, those details have yet to be defined," Ransdell said in his message. "So we are a long way from fully knowing how WKU will be impacted by these proposals.  I am confident, however, that WKU will fare well in any measure that is outcome or performance based.

Ransdell says the budget contains at least one bright spot for WKU. Gov. Bevin's budget proposal contains an equity funding appropriation for both WKU and Northern Kentucky University. Ransdell says the appropriation would held "level the playing field for our students who are paying a disproportionate share of their education in comparison to students at other Kentucky universities."

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