Another attempt at bringing charter schools to Kentucky is making progress in the state Senate. But, proponents face a bigger challenge in the Kentucky House. Session after session, Kentucky’s state Senate has endorsed charter schools. So, it’s not surprising that this winter a charter school bill has cleared the Senate Education Committee. If enacted, charter school would be exempt from many state requirements, with the aim to cut costs and improve education. This year, Senator Mike Wilson is selling the idea such freedom could help schools that persistently perform poorly on achievement tests.
“They are left with only two options, to closure of the school or being taken over by an outside management agency. This bill allows them a third option which is charter schools, and so we have 16 of those in Jefferson County,” said Wilson.
Earlier in the day, fans of charter schools rallied in the capitol rotunda. Among them was Louisville student James Yarbrough, who attends a low achieving school.
“I feel like the education isn’t good and they’re just warehousing kids to be on the streets, sort of like a daycare for kids. We not getting any education, and I feel like a charter school would help that,” said Yarbrough.
Sitting next to James was his mother Lenora Yarbrough. She’s not sure charter schools provide the entire answer, but she thinks they could be part of a formula that improves education.
“It’s just time for a change. I’m for charter schools. I’m for vouchers. I’m for home schooling, any option that will grant our children the access to excel in education,” added Yarbrough.
Among the steadfast opponents to charter schools is the Kentucky Education Association. Association President Sharron Oxendine argues public school teachers have many of the same goals as people who back charter schools. They want smaller classes, more parental involvement, and additional resources.
“We’re all going for what’s best for Kentucky’s kids, but we want every child to benefit from those charter type situations, instead of a select few in particular parts of the state,” explained Oxendine.
When the committee voted on the bill, Lexington Senator Alice Kerr admitted her support for charter schools came slowly. Kerr comes from a family of public school teachers.
“Let’s get a little bit of love going between us all and not see this as a partisan issue, but as a children’s issue. I vote aye,” said Kerr.
The debate in Frankfort is generally along party lines…with Republicans favoring such reform, and Democrats like Louisville Senator Gerald Neal worried about the consequences.
“My concern is one of accountability and what happens to public money down the road when things don’t go well. The authority’s been granted, the plans are in place, you’ve put your board as prescribe under here in place. Then what happens between these entities in respect to that,” said Neal.
Despite such concerns, the charter school bill is expected to pass the Kentucky Senate. But, in the past, the House has not welcomed charter school legislation. Woodford County Representative Carl Rollins chairs the House Education Committee.
“All the research I’ve seen, the serious research shows that they don’t work very well. There’s anecdotal evidence that some work, but whenever you look overall, they don’t work very well, so we’ll consider that,” said Rollins.
With just a week left in the session, committee heads like Rollins will increasingly decide which bills will face a vote by the full house. Given such opposition, the annual debate over charter schools could continue in Frankfort session after session.