A bill that would give Kentucky students a voice in selecting school system superintendents has hit a snag. On Monday, Kentucky senators tacked on two controversial amendments — one related to which school bathrooms transgender students may use, the other protecting religious speech at school — that the students say are likely to doom their effort.
“We really do have bipartisan support, it’s just these amendments don’t have bipartisan support, and they have nothing to do with our bill,” said Eliza Jane Schaeffer, a 16-year-old junior at Henry Clay High School in Lexington.
Schaeffer is part of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, a statewide organization of students in middle school and high school that works to give young people a chance to weigh in on state and local education policy.
The bill they brought to the state legislature this year would allow students to sit on superintendent screening committees, which review applications and make hiring recommendations to local school boards. State law currently prohibits students from sitting on those selection committees.
The Democrat-led Kentucky House passed the bill by a wide margin, 88-5, and on Monday, the legislation passed easily out of committee in the Republican-led Senate. The riders cropped up later in the day on the Senate floor.
Sen. C.B. Embry Jr. (R-Morgantown) added language meant to ban transgender students from using school bathrooms that don’t match their anatomical sex. The second amendment, from Sen. Albert Robinson (R-London), is meant to protect students’ religious speech at school.
Both amendments are separate bills that passed the Senate easily but stalled in the more liberal House.
“They either let our bill through, or we will attach it to legislation such as this,” Robinson said, adding that he likes the students’ superintendent bill but has to send a message to the Democratic leadership in the House. “You either sacrifice your own bill, or you pass what you should have passed to start with.”
Embry did not respond to a request for comment.
Schaeffer and her fellow student Gentry Fitch, both of whom have testified about the bill in the legislature in the winter, said they’ve learned that their civics and government classes have offered a somewhat sanitized view of how government works. And that old Schoolhouse Rock song, “How a Bill Becomes a Law”? A little Pollyanna-ish.
“Our running joke is that it’s less ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ than ‘House of Cards’,” said Rachel Belin, one of the students’ adult advisers. “As a former social studies teacher, I’m worried that an unbelievable civics lesson may become an unbelievable cynics lesson.”
Robinson said the students are learning about real life. “It’s Politics 101,” he said.
The students are continuing to lobby for their bill in between their high school classes, reaching out to lawmakers and to the media to press their case. But they’re running out of time: Kentucky’s legislative session ends Wednesday.