Interim committees met September 9 through 13 for their monthly meetings, bringing together members of the House and Senate to hear from state government officials and members of the public about the issues we will be looking at during the next session. I believe I have shared that this year's committee meeting schedule has been reorganized, so now almost all of the meetings take place during one week each month.

This month, members of the Education Committee met and discussed two important topics facing education today - child abuse and neglect, and a shortage in teachers. The presentation on child abuse and neglect came from a group of students from Boyle County. They are requesting that the General Assembly consider requiring age-appropriate education on child abuse to our public school curriculum. According to the presentation, 28 states have already passed similar requirements and comparable measures have been filed in previous sessions. Child abuse and neglect have been a priority for the General Assembly over the past few years, with Kentucky leading the nation in child abuse and neglect cases. While the next step for this proposal requires a great deal of review and consideration, I was quite impressed by how this group of young people handled a difficult topic.

Education Committee members also heard from school superintendents about a shortage in teachers in our public schools. According to the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, 95 percent of public school superintendents say that the teacher shortage is a "significant problem." Flynn also shared that there has been a steep decline in the number of students studying education, from 13,000 in 2007 to just 5,000 today. Naturally, we need to delve into why fewer people are looking at teaching as a career and what we can do to engage more. There has already been some discussion about into incentives like dual credit hours, the certification process and maybe even expanding the financial assistance available to those who want to teach. Already, more than $1.7 million a year in lottery funds are invested in need-based scholarships designed to attract qualified students to teaching. The pension crisis also creates some uncertainty for potential teachers, as does the concern that teachers have to spend too much time on paperwork and not enough with students. The root of the problem is likely a combination of all of these factors. We will continue to monitor the situation and look for possible solutions.

A legislative working group created to review opportunities for Kentuckians who want to pursue a career in one of the skilled trades or technical fields also met this week. The Kentucky Career and Technical Education Task Force received a report on how Kentucky stacks up with neighboring states. According to the Southern Regional Education Board, our career and technical education system is far less centralized. Instead of one system, we have several on the secondary and postsecondary levels that plug into existing resources. Also, and this was particularly interesting to me, some states fund at different levels based on the demand for specific skills. For example, Ohio allocates per-pupil funding of up to $5,100 for information technology, manufacturing, health sciences, but only $1,300 for family and consumer sciences education.

The Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment also met last week. Representatives from the drug abuse treatment, business and health insurance communities were on the agenda to discuss how the opioid crisis is hurting our efforts to improve Kentucky's workforce. This is a hot topic because, despite record economic investment and thousands of new jobs we still rank 47th in the nation in workforce participation. That means that too many Kentuckians who could be working are not. The information we get paints a pretty clear picture - drug addiction is preventing people from becoming productive, healthy members of society.

As you can see, interim committees cover a wide array of topics. They represent the opportunities and challenges we face as a state, and highlight what we need to work on when we come back in session in January. The committees will meet again the week of September 30 through October 4 and I hope to report back after those meetings as well.

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.