The legislature's interim joint committees met this week in preparation for the next legislative session, which will convene on January 7, 2020. We heard testimony on several bills that have been pre-filed for session, but also received updates from state agencies on state programs.

Members of the State Government Committee meeting heard an update from the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet about the 2020 state employee health insurance plan. More than 290,000 Kentuckians receive their insurance through the state plan. Of that number, more than half (52 %) are school board employees, 19 percent work in state agencies, 24% are early retirees, 5% work for quasi-government organizations. According to cabinet officials, there will be a premium increase of less than $20 a month and an out of pocket maximum increase of $250. However, there is also good news as the maximum contribution for pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts has increased to $2,700. Participants in the state plan pay an average of 16 percent of the actual cost of the health insurance. According to plan administrators, the state will save approximately $24 million by using a cost savings measure that allows the state to compare prescription drug costs.

Education received a great deal of attention. The Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue heard from President Aaron Thompson of the Council for Postsecondary Education about a funding strategy that provides financial incentives based on a university's academic accomplishments. We have heard some very positive results from the implementation of this funding model at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, and now it is being implemented at all but two of the state's regional universities. President Thompson also shared that Kentucky is experiencing a boom in postsecondary education, with a 12 percent growth in bachelor's degrees and a 29 percent increase in STEM degrees for that same period.

The Interim Joint Committee on Education heard testimony on a pre-filed bill, BR 203, which seeks to ensure greater access to arts education in our schools. Under the bill's provisions, elementary students would receive a minimum of 120 minutes of art instruction a week. According to supporters, research supports that children who are highly engaged in the arts perform better academically and are more engaged in school.

The Career and Technical Education Task Force also met. As I have written in the past, this area of education is critical to our economic development efforts. We can attract and create jobs, but if we do not have skilled men and women to fill them, what good does it do? Task Force members continue to hear that our current approach to career and technical education is too fractured and needs to be better organized to promote working together. This has led to differences in funding and less efficiency.

Members of the Program Review and Investigations Committee also met this week. They received an update from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System that provides a look at the barriers facing Kentuckians who want to pursue a degree or further job training. According to the KCTCS representatives, financial constraints and child care needs are among the top challenges facing current students. A study shows that 50 percent of students face housing insecurity, almost 15 percent struggle to provide food for themselves or their families. Child care - both the expense and availability - also weighs heavily on this group. With average student income at $25,000 or less, the weekly child care rates of $140-$160 a week per child can be crippling. Our KCTCS schools do important work and often have life changing results, especially when you consider that almost half of their students are the first generation in their family to enroll in a postsecondary institute.

As always, I can be reached at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Chris.Freeland@lrc.ky.gov. You can also keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov. You can also follow me on Facebook @Freelandforky.