The interim committees hit the ground running

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By Jimmy Higdon

The legislative interim period officially began this month. My first meeting was June 10 with the Interim Joint Committee on Education, and we had a full slate. We heard two comprehensive presentations from two educational think tanks. First, we heard from Dr. Gene Bottoms with the Southern Regional Education Board Foundation for Excellence in Education, and Gene Wilhoit, executive director of National Center for Innovation in Education.
Dr. Bottoms presented the concept of “two to one world-class system of technical centers,” which would include the collaboration between technical and traditional schools, emphasizing career instruction. There would be a stronger link between technical education centers, community colleges and worksites to produce graduates with relevant jobsite experience; ready to go into a career. The academic and more technical instruction would be blended to benefit the student and the needs of industry. 
Dr. Bottoms raised an important point during his presentation. Students can’t see themselves in a career field if they don’t know about it. His vision is to fill this void with experiences and knowledge about other job choices for students while they are in school. It reminded me of my 8-year-old grandson who recently came to visit us. His grandmother handed him a bar of soap and a towel for his shower, he looked at the bar of soap and said, “What’s this?” I had a good laugh, but I realized he had never seen a bar of soap, and had only used the liquid in his house. He had no concept of what the bar was for, or how he should use it. Similarly, our students can’t see themselves in a productive career that they know nothing about. We need to make our students aware of the many possibilities out there by creating a way to expose choices to them. These choices are likely to spark interests, while opening up a new future that they may not have known possible.
I am a strong advocate for this type of integration because it helps our industry and our students. Students learn about job opportunities that they can strive for, and employers can have experienced, knowledgeable applicants. Apprenticeships, co-op and internship opportunities, are all win-wins for Kentucky.
The second presentation was by Gene Wilhoit, executive director of National Center for Innovation in Education and former Kentucky Chief of Schools. He reported on a study that looked at creating a more individualized curriculum for students that focused on future career choices. Somewhat similar to the first presentation, the program would require teacher training and different approaches to instruction allowing a more individualized education.
As the landscape of employment in the U.S., and specifically in Kentucky, continues to rapidly change, hearing new ideas to help prepare our students for areas of growth that they can look to for career options is critical to our work in updating educational curriculum, programs and policies.
Equally important, the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare met June 18 and it also was a full agenda of presentations. We heard about a state program, Impact Plus, that provides behavioral health services to kids, and how it will transition those members to Medicaid due to the recent expansion.
Also, we were briefed on the budget for Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and finally heard proponents of legalizing medical marijuana; a topic I am sure will be featured throughout this interim period as we move closer to the 2015 legislative session.
I am always interested in your comments or questions. Please feel free to contact me by calling and leaving a message at the toll-free message line for legislators, 1-800-372-7181. Also, you are welcome to call me at my home, 270-692-6945. My e-mail address is jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov.