Jess Clark

Jess Clark is WWNO's Education Desk reporter. Jess comes to the station after two years as Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC (Chapel Hill). Her reporting has aired on national programs, including NPR's All Things ConsideredHere & Now from WBURand NPR's Weekend Edition

Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Jess graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015 with a master's in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Jess Clark

The Jefferson County Board of Education is suing the marketing and business consulting firm McKinsey & Company over its alleged role in fueling the opioid epidemic.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, the school board alleges McKinsey is responsible for the millions of dollars in costs Kentucky school districts are spending to handle the epidemic’s impact on students, families and employees.

According to the lawsuit, Jefferson County Public Schools is seeking damages for costs related to providing special education and related services to children who were exposed to opioids in utero.

J. Tyler Franklin

Key employees at the Churchill Downs racetrack may strike on Derby Day. Representatives for the track’s workers’ union said they haven’t been able to come to an agreement with Churchill Downs over pay and benefits for the company’s valets.

“And now we’re getting to the brink of a very scary decision: whether we strike an event that the world watches,” said attorney David Suetholtz, who represents the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 541. 

The union has about 400 members, and around 200 of them usually work the Derby, Suetholtz said.

According to Suetholtz, the union has been trying to negotiate its three-year contract since last July for the valets at Churchill Downs, and since last February for those at Turfway Park in Florence. Valets saddle and unsaddle the horses, and make sure each horse is carrying the same weight.

World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons

Activists are calling on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to ban Derby favorite Essential Quality and his owner, the ruler of Dubai. The activists point to findings by a British court that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum kidnapped his own daughter and is holding her hostage.

Their demand is based on a 2020 fact-finding judgement by a British court, which found that Sheikh Mohammad kidnapped his then 33-year-old daughter Sheikha Latifa in 2018 as she was trying to flee the emirate and seek asylum in the United States. 

According to University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson, Sheikha Latifa made it to international waters on a U.S. ship, when Emirati and Indian forces stormed the vessel and took her and the crew captive. She has not been heard from since.

Ryan Van Velzer

“It’s just a blessing that somebody is finally listening,” said Denorver “Dee” Garrett, a 29-year-old Louisville protester, fighting back tears. “That somebody is finally hearing our voices — after over a year.”

Garrett was speaking in Jefferson Square Park on Monday afternoon, not far from where an LMPD officer last week punched him in the face multiple times while police officers restrained him on the ground during an arrest. Garrett’s sense of relief follows news that the U.S. Department of Justice will investigate the Louisville Metro Police Department and Louisville Metro Government. 

The investigation means the highest levels of the federal government will soon focus their scrutiny on Louisville.

Jess Clark | WFPL

School districts across Kentucky are trying to decide whether to offer students a chance to repeat the 2020-2021 academic year, to make up for what some parents believe was a period of lost learning due to the pandemic. 

new Kentucky law allows districts to let students in grades K-12 retake a full year of classes, possibly for a better grade. The measure also allows students, including some graduating seniors, to participate in an additional year of athletics. 

Lawmakers left it to individual school districts to decide whether or not to offer the “supplemental school year.” Families must submit their requests to participate by May 1, and districts must decide by June 1 whether to offer the program. Districts can’t pick and choose which requests to grant—if they decide to offer the supplemental school year, they must oblige all who request it.

Liz Schlemmer

Kentucky 120 United, the public education advocacy group that led mass teacher sickouts in 2018 and 2019, is unionizing.

“We seek better. We seek more. We seek our voices to be heard in the halls of Frankfort and our local communities,” KY 120 United co-founder Nema Brewer said Monday from the steps of the state capitol.

It was inside that building that KY 120 United gathered thousands of teachers, school employees, parents and other supporters in 2018 and 2019 to oppose attempts to slash teacher retirement benefits, create charter schools and send would-be tax dollars to private schools. According to Brewer, the group now has 38,000 members.

Creative Commons

Future public school teachers will have less generous retirement benefits, and families in some counties will soon be able to apply for private-school scholarships funded through tax credits after Kentucky state lawmakers overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes of two controversial education bills Monday.

Both overrides represent long-sought victories for supporters of pension reform and private schools. Others see them as major blows to public education.

Teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2022, will have a new, less-costly pension plan under House Bill 258. Bill co-sponsor Boone County Republican Rep. Ed Massey said it will save the state $3.57 billion over the next 30 years.

Stephanie Wolf

Gov. Andy Beshear has vetoed two controversial education bills: One would create a $25 million tax-credit program to fund private school tuition; another would add a less-costly tier to the state’s teacher pension program for new hires. 

During a Wednesday press conference, Beshear said the measures “represent a direct attack on public education.”

The most divisive bill is House Bill 536, the tax-credit scholarship measure, which Beshear called “unconstitutional,” saying it diverts tax dollars to private schools.

“This measure would greatly harm public education in Kentucky by taking money away from public schools and sending it to unaccountable, private organizations with little oversight,” Beshear said.

Stephanie Wolf

Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed five bills Monday aimed at stripping away several powers his office has historically held. Beshear, a Democrat, called the Republican bills “purely partisan.”

“These bills were more politically-related, violate our state constitution, [and] chip away at our strong separation of powers simply because of who is sitting in this chair, and who is not,” Beshear said during a Monday afternoon press conference.

Republicans in the General Assembly, who have a veto-proof majority in both chambers, will likely override Beshear’s vetoes.

Creative Commons

Kentucky state lawmakers passed several bills that would bring big changes to K-12 education Tuesday, including a teacher pension reform measure and a controversial tax-credit scholarship program.

Tuesday was the last day of the Kentucky General Assembly’s legislative session before the veto period, and lawmakers passed a flurry of bills before the midnight deadline. This gives them an opportunity to override any vetoes from Gov. Andy Beshear when they return for the last two days of the session at the end of the month.

Jess Clark | WFPL

A Kentucky House bill requiring school districts to offer at least two days a week of in-person learning by March 29 has cleared the state Senate. 

The bill is mostly aimed at Jefferson County Public Schools, which has been fully virtual since last March, when buildings closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Anticipating passage of the bill by both chambers, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted 4-3 last week to begin a phased reopening with a hybrid learning schedule, starting March 17. 

The bill passed 28-8 and now heads back to the House for consideration of a few changes made by the Senate.

Ryan Van Velzer

Forecasters are predicting a “major, major” winter weather event to hit Kentucky and southern Indiana beginning Wednesday afternoon, according to Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett. He warned ice could be a significant threat.

Dossett said the most significant precipitation is expected between 5 p.m. Wednesday and 3 a.m. Thursday. Total precipitation is expected to be between 0.25 inches to 0.5 inches.

“The roadways are going to be extraordinarily dangerous,” due to freezing rain, ice, sleet and snow, Dossett said. The greatest impact will be in central and southern Kentucky.

Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons

Kentucky House lawmakers are trying, again, to pass a bill allowing students with felony convictions to use their Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, or KEES, funding.

Kentucky high school students are eligible to get a certain amount of college funding based on their GPAs and test scores through the KEES scholarship program, which is funded by the state lottery.

The higher a student’s GPA, the more funding the student receives, up to $2,000 if they maintain a 4.0 GPA for four years. Students can also earn more based on their ACT score, or scores on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge Advanced International (CAI) exams.

Stephanie Wolf

Kentucky has surpassed another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic. Saturday Gov. Andy Beshear reported the state’s death toll from COVID-19 has now reached more than 4,000 people. Beshear reported 49 new deaths, bringing total deaths to 4,020. 

The state marked 3,000 deaths just weeks ago in mid-January.

The governor also reported another 1,998 new cases. The state’s seven-day average of new cases has been on the decline after a post-holiday surge. But public health officials are worried about Super Bowl gatherings becoming super-spreader events, and are warning people to avoid hosting or attending Super Bowl parties.

Across the state, 1,294 people are hospitalized with the virus. Of those people, 318 are in the ICU and 164 are on a ventilator.

Creative Commons

A bill reforming the teacher pension system for new hires cleared the Kentucky State House Thursday afternoon, less than two hours after coming out of a legislative committee.

The bill would put teachers hired after Jan. 2022 into a different “tier” than current employees. The new tier would have a smaller defined benefit than the existing plan, but would also have an additional defined contribution, meaning a portion of retirees’ total benefits could fluctuate based on the treasury rate, but would not go down in value. 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Massey (R-Boone), said the average payment would be 74% of the teacher’s salary, similar to salary replacement for the current plan and would save the state $3.57 billion over the next 30 years.

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