Liz Schlemmer

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.

She has previously served as a temporary Morning Edition producer and intern at WUNC and as a news intern at St. Louis Public Radio. Liz is originally from Indiana, where she grew up with a large extended family of educators.

 

The day report cards go home in backpacks is an important moment for students, who will show their families just how well things are going at school. But in an era of school accountability, students aren’t the only ones who receive grades. The Kentucky Department of Education will soon release its annual report cards that score individual public schools. And this year’s school report cards will include a new feature — a final grade.

Well, it’s not exactly a grade, like in neighboring Indiana where schools get an A to F score just like their students. In Kentucky, schools will receive one to five stars. Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis said this will improve the state’s school report cards, which in the past have offered lots of data about schools, but no final score.


On the first day of August, just two weeks before most Kentucky schools start class, there were 2,974 vacancies posted for public school educators across the state. Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis says that’s a serious problem. 

“We see more districts, that begin the academic year — where kids are showing up in classrooms — and they have not filled positions,” Lewis said.

And in some cases, he says students may even finish the school year with a long term substitute or a teacher who is not fully certified.


In his monthly report to the Kentucky Board of Education Wednesday, Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis gave an impassioned argument that overall school funding would not solve all the problems schools face. Instead, Lewis called for “additional strategic funding” to address inequities in education. Among that targeted funding, Lewis suggested that performance-based pay for teachers could be an effective strategy for improving Kentucky schools.

“If we’re honest about it, there is no incentive currently to be a great teacher,” Lewis told the Board of Education.

Lewis argued better incentives for teachers would help teacher retention overall, and specifically attract more experienced educators to serve in high need schools. Lewis said currently, the schools with the greatest need are frequently heavily staffed by first year teachers.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has filed a lawsuit to block subpoenas issued by Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration as part of an investigation into teacher sickouts.

The complaint Beshear filed Monday seeks a temporary injunction to prevent school districts from having to submit records to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet that might identify teachers who participated in recent sickouts at the statehouse. Labor Cabinet Secretary David Dickerson has said it is his office’s duty to investigate whether school employees broke a state law prohibiting public employees from striking. The Labor Cabinet could punish any violation of that law with a fine of up to $1,000. 

eddie campbell kea
KEA / Facebook

The Kentucky Education Association is a statewide member organization and lobbying group for public school educators. Last week, KEA members elected the association’s former vice president Eddie Campbell to be their new president. Campbell takes over for Stephanie Winkler, whose term ended.

kentucky teacher protest
Ryland Barton

Lawmakers say they've been fielding lots of questions from teachers — including whether their presence at the Capitol has made any difference.

Kentucky’s 2019 legislative session was a busy one for education-related measures.

kentucky teacher protest
Ryland Barton

The grassroots teacher advocacy group KY 120 United started this week by laying out a laundry list of educators' grievances in a web post that threatens more action to shut down schools if the Kentucky legislature crosses their "lines in the sand." Now many school superintendents and school board members are also voicing strong opposition to one of KY 120's chief complaints — a proposed bill for scholarship tax credits that public school advocates call a "backdoor school voucher" measure.

A House Committee has advanced a controversial bill that drew protests from hundreds of Kentucky educators in Frankfort Thursday.

The bill — House Bill 525 — would change the membership of the board of trustees that manages the teacher pension plan. On Wednesday, a teacher advocacy group called on educators to call in sick Thursday and arrive at the Capitol en masse to protest the bill. Hundreds showed up, flooding the bill’s committee hearing with the line wrapping across the lawn.

in god we trust
U.S. Capitol / Public Domain

A bill to require all public schools in Kentucky to display the national motto "In God We Trust" has passed its first hurdle in the legislature. The House Education Committee approved the bill this week in a split vote.

Four days a week, Micah Swimmer facilitates an all-day language session between young adults who are learning Eastern Band Cherokee and older, fluent speakers.

He points to the back of his classroom at the New Kituwah Academy in Cherokee, N.C. It's early September, and sheets of paper on a bulletin board display the names of 226 Eastern Band Cherokee members.

"That's all we have out of [about] 16,000 enrolled members," he says. "That's all we have left that are fluent speakers."