What Issues are Most Important to Kentucky’s Teachers?
KEA Teacher’s Survey Says…
Prior to the current legislative session, KEA asked member-educators to identify their legislative priorities, in order, in a short survey, to help focus the KEA Legislative Agenda in 2022. Some 1,375 members responded to voice their opinions about what issues and policies KEA should be fighting and advocating for.
What Should KEA's Legislative Priorities Be?
Protecting public pensions and salary/wage increases for educators, not surprisingly, were the chief issues of concern among all respondents at 78 percent and 77 percent, respectively. Based on responses, most believe educator and staff shortages are due to the long-term trend of fewer benefits and lower wages offered to those who educate our children.
“There is and will continue to be an educator and school employee shortage in our public schools,” said one educator who took the survey. “Public officials should be protecting public education. Public education needs to be strengthened to recruit and retain our brightest teachers. Use this current session to overhaul Kentucky public schools and this will not only recruit teachers in the field but also retain teachers. A great public school system will also attract businesses.”
Said another respondent, “We need better pay for substitute teachers and classified staff. They truly support the teachers!”
Third on the survey list is “reducing an educator’s workload at school,” at 68 percent. For example, reducing required paperwork or eliminating unpaid extra duties.
Said one respondent, “Many schools have expected teachers/staff to take on extra hours/duties (for example, come in early to do breakfast in classrooms, serve breakfast, give up duty free lunch to do lunch in classrooms) during the last two years with COVID. Although it was understandable for these things to happen during the pandemic, it should not become the norm, and it doesn’t appear schools are making the needed changes to get staff back to the times/duties they are paid for.”
At 58 percent, reducing standardized testing/reliance on standardized test scores for accountability was top of mind for many educators across the Commonwealth. “We must make sure that we are not ‘cherry picking’ data and research to support changes that push forward a narrow view of how children learn. Learning is a complex process that requires meeting the needs of learners through responsive teaching and allows for multiple paths to common outcomes. Changes to instructional practices should not be decided only by legislators.”
Due to the stress put on educators and all school employees during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that 54 percent believed a focus on educator mental health should be a legislative priority. One respondent said, “We are drowning! We cover classes during our planning period daily. We have little to no support from our administrators. More and more is added to our plates every day. We are running on empty and there’s no sign of letting up in the future. Something has to give.”
Protecting planning time for educators was a priority of 51 percent for those who took the survey. Many have seen their planning time lost due to staff shortages. “I teach over 150 students per day,” said a survey respondent. “The ‘duties’ that go along with that at the secondary level are 10 times what we had when I started. One example is that our teacher day is longer and longer. Most days we are working over 8 hours without a break covering classes due to the sub shortage, bus dismissal is over 25 minutes long or more due to driver shortages. Grading, documentation, and parent communication has taken over the time that we have after school. It is not just a workday with instructional minutes of students that is our expectation.”
Nearly 49 percent believe that access to affordable health insurance is a top legislative priority for educators, and 48 percent think reducing class size is vital to improving education in Kentucky. Some 46 percent of survey takers believe a focus on student mental health should be a top priority in the aftermath of a two-year pandemic. One survey respondent believes Kentucky needs, “sufficient treatment for students who are hurting so badly emotionally or mentally, and who disrupt a teacher’s ability to teach other student in class.” Finally, 35 percent want to maintain and continue funding full-day kindergarten across the Commonwealth to focus on early education and better educational outcomes.
Which State Budget Issues Concern Educators Most?
First on the list of budget issues was finding new revenue sources dedicated to funding public schools, which nearly 65 percent of respondents supported. One educator identified new sources that should be considered by legislators. “Legalize medical marijuana with all profits going to pension funding. Legalize sports gambling with profits going to education funding, such as increasing teacher salaries across the state to retain teachers and as an incentive for new people to go into education.”
“Raising teacher salaries and developing a fund for that, especially after this year, and protecting teacher pensions, must be funded,” said another respondent. “We need funding for training new, non-traditionally certified teachers, funding for programs to keep current certified teachers and attract new teachers to replace those leaving; and funding to raise salaries for classified workers so we don’t lose them to the public sector,” said another educator.
Additional SEEK funding was of serious concern to public educators as well, with more than 46 percent of them concerned about the issue. Funding “for additional staff for social and emotional support, additional school counselors, or early childhood academic interventions,” was the focus of one educator who was concerned about post-COVID realities.
The lack of substantial textbook and technology funds in public schools was a major issue for more than 45 percent of educators. “We need funding for visual and performing arts,” said one respondent. Another educator commented that “technology funds need to be separated from textbook funding. This is 2021, not 1990.”
School safety funding was a major budget issue for nearly 39 percent of KEA educators who took part in the survey. “We need a nurse and a resource officer in every school building,” said one respondent. Another stated a concern for “lack of student and parent accountability and discipline,” that is too often left to the school.
Rounding out the top issues for respondents were transportation funding (34%), funding for after-school programs (27%), and professional development funding for educators (25%).
KEA keeps your input top of mind when we engage with legislators. Thanks so much to all of you who responded.