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Issue Position: Priority One

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Priority One

As House Speaker, Jody Richards has made education his top priority during the last dozen years, but his commitment to this cause goes back much further. Jody Richards grew up the son of a teacher in Adair County, spent his early career teaching at Western Kentucky University, and served as chairman of the House of Representatives' Education Committee during the first years of his legislative service. Jody Richards has seen first-hand how far Kentucky has come, and knows just what we need to do to give our children a truly world-class education.

In the Richards/Brown administration, Kentucky schools will always come first. Everything else the Commonwealth hopes to accomplish as a state rests on that foundation.

Looking at it one way, Kentucky's journey to reform elementary and secondary education has been just as dramatic. The timeline is much slower, of course - a generation or more - but the initiatives still have changed everything in their wake. Children who had little or no hope can now find the tools they need to succeed. Communities that had been mired in poverty are now rebuilding themselves in ways once thought impossible. A Commonwealth that was looked down upon for decades is now looked up to by a nation.

It is no mistake that the last 17 years of reform have been the best 17 years in the history of education in Kentucky. And the future, if Kentucky continues doing the right thing, is even brighter.

Jody Richards is proud to be one of the key leaders that wrote the Kentucky Education Reform Act during the 1990 Regular Session of the General Assembly. No state had ever undertaken such a massive venture. There were no guidelines to follow, no one who could accurately show where to go and, just as importantly, what not to do. All the writers had was a theory, a willingness to test it, and a lot of hope.

That theory included closing the gap between the richest and poorest schools by making their funding far more equitable; addressing the problems children and their families had outside school by creating family resource and youth services centers; giving teachers, principals, and parents more autonomy in running their schools; creating ungraded primaries through the third grade so our youngest students could progress more at their own rate; increasing teacher salaries because they were much too low; and renewing the commitment to improve technology in the classroom.

All children can learn, most at high levels. They have an uncanny way of meeting whatever is expected of them, so the legislature decided to set the bar as high as possible. The results have been extremely rewarding, and students at every level and demographic group have made significant strides.

As proof, Kentucky was selected the winner of the 2006 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation, given each year by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). The award, which recognizes excellence in state education policy, was presented to Kentucky for the depth, breadth and sustained focus of our education reform.

Last May, we learned how well Kentucky is doing on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) program, otherwise known as "the nation's report card." Scores for fourth and eighth graders were "significantly above the national average," according to the Ky. Dept. of Education.

This was not a one-time occurrence. From 2000 to 2005, Kentucky was one of just nine states that had a significant score increase at the 4th grade level and one of just 11 states seeing the same thing at the eighth grade level. On top of that, we recently learned that Kentucky's fourth graders from low-income families scored higher than their counterparts in every other state on a national science test, while our eighth graders were in the top 10.

In many respects, as these examples show, Kentucky is doing very well in meeting the worthy goals set in 1990. But the state is at a critical juncture, and it will not realize its full potential if the leadership is lacking as we try to move our elementary and secondary schools to the same high level. The Jody Richards' administration is the only one with the experience and the drive that can take us on these final steps of our journey.

A Plan of Action, A Vision of Success
As Governor, Jody Richards will make education Priority One. His administration will overhaul the budget in ways that gives our schools the level of state spending they saw in the 1990s. Simply put, we cannot afford anything less. The Priority One plan will address all levels and facets of education: 1) primary and secondary education; 2) higher education; 3) classroom technology; and 4) teacher incentives and training.

1. Primary and Secondary Education
Although Kentucky has seen significant improvements in primary and secondary education, we must continue looking for ways to enhance education for the youngest of the Commonwealth. Jody Richards has taken the lead in ensuring that primary and secondary education has been paramount in the legislature's efforts to increase education funding. As Governor, he will further the success of primary and secondary education reforms by implementing the following policies:

* Fund all-day kindergarten for all public schools in the Commonwealth, allowing for more instructional time at an early age, which has been directly linked to a child's success in the future.
* Increase funding for early intervention programs for students that are at high risk of dropping out. By identifying and intervening earlier in a child's life, we can prevent them from losing out on educational opportunities and harming their future way of life.

2. Higher Education
In many ways, the Kentucky Education Reform Act's greatest success has been at the elementary and middle school level. Without taking away the tremendous progress these grades have made, Jody Richards believes that our focus in the years ahead has to be at the high school level, those critical years when students essentially decide the course of their adult lives.Kentucky has seen a steady increase in the number of seniors going on to college - 49.8 percent in 1993 to 53.9 percent in 2005 - but it cannot be called true progress to say that almost half of our graduating seniors choose not to continue their education.

In this century, where a college degree is crucial, those who do not pursue this route are fated to be left behind in our ever-changing economy. Their choice guarantees a career earning hundreds of thousands of dollars less than their college-bound peers over a lifetime. To ensure that more of Kentucky's young adults pursue education beyond high school, Governor Jody Richards will promote the following policies:

* Establish "College Opportunity Grants," which would double the amount of need-based assistance given to students in the neediest 25th percentile of applicants.
* Create additional "Skills Credits" to allow those students who choose to pursue a two-year degree at a KCTCS school to receive reimbursement if they continue their education in pursuit of a four-year degree.
* Expand access to Advanced Placement classes so that students entering colleges across the state are better prepared to begin their studies.
* Begin a community mentoring program to pair students with successful adults to present them with potential career choices, and provide KEES-based grants to students who pursue degrees and careers in those fields.

3. Classroom Technology
The Richards/Brown administration will build on the technological lead we have in the classroom, which the publication Education Week ranked as the fifth best last year. We will continue using the Internet to our advantage and add even more virtual classrooms so that students will be able to take the classes they need, no matter where they live. As Governor, Jody Richards will take the following steps to make all Kentucky classrooms state-of-the-art:

* Continue adding computers to all classrooms throughout the Commonwealth to establish the virtual classrooms and allow students to interact with their peers across the state, throughout the nation, and around the world.
* Expand Internet access into schools throughout Kentucky to allow students every opportunity to retrieve information and broaden their learning experience.

4. Teacher Incentives and Training
While much of our focus will be in the classroom, the Richards-Brown administration will address pressing issues outside the classroom. Kentucky educators are second only to the parent in molding the children of our state and the future of our Commonwealth. They provide more than knowledge to the youth of Kentucky - they provide instruction for how children should live their lives.Jody Richards is proud to have been the lead sponsor of the 2006 law that set this in motion, beginning with a $3,500 raise this upcoming school year. As Governor, he will continue to aid Kentucky educators with the following proposals:

* Further increase the pay of teachers to keep Kentucky competitive in terms of attracting and retaining top-tier educators.
* Initiate the first-in-the-nation "Principal's Academy" in Kentucky - a program to instruct men and women on how to be effective school administrators.


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