Kentucky Charter Schools Bill Headed To Governor's Desk

Mar 16, 2017
Originally published on March 16, 2017 7:32 am

UPDATE 9:31 p.m.: The Kentucky House has approved legislation authorizing charter schools in the state. The final vote was 53-43.

After weeks of not moving, the legislation emerged in a legislative committee Wednesday, passed out of the Senate in the afternoon and the House in the evening.

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins objected to the quick pace of the debate.

“For something that is this major, for the public policy of the commonwealth of Kentucky, I think that’s bad business,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s the way we’ve done it on other major reform that has been successful here in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Charter schools would be exempted from many state regulations, which supporters say will allow for innovation and better education of students.

The legislature also passed a bill creating a funding system for charters. Much like traditional public schools, charters will be funded with state dollars based on student attendance.

But charters won’t get money raised from local property taxes — that stays with the local school district.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin, who spoke in favor of the bill Wednesday morning.

UPDATE 7:38 p.m.: Charter schools would be funded in the same manner as public schools with some exceptions under a surprise bill introduced by state Republican lawmakers Wednesday evening.

The companion bill was first introduced after the main charters bill had already passed through both legislative chambers.

Charters would not receive funds for facilities, funds raised from local property taxes or transportation funds under the bill. They would also receive 3 percent less in state funding that would go to local school districts and the state education board as an “authorizer fee.”

Under the bill, charter school teachers would participate in the state pension system and state health plan.

Earlier:

The state Senate approved legislation authorizing charter schools in Kentucky after a three-hour debate on Wednesday.

The legislation now heads back to the House of Representatives, which would have to approve changes the Senate made to the bill before it can be sent to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk.

Sen. Dan Seum, a Republican from Louisville, voted in favor of the bill, saying charters would force public schools to get better at educating students.

“When you’re the only game in town, you don’t really have to perform too well,” he said. “But when that competition shows up, you’ve gotta do better or you lose.”

Sen. Steve West, a Republican from Paris, said that “choice is good and preferable to being locked into one option.”

“Only in government when we come locked into a government system do we put our blinders on and see too much choice as a threat,” he said.

During the debate, Democrats raised questions over whether the bill would allow for-profit companies to apply to form charter schools, despite assurances that it wouldn’t.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, said the bill should include language explicitly prohibiting for-profits.

“The absence of prohibiting for-profit companies from getting involved in charter schools means they are allowed to get involved in charter schools,” McGarvey said.

Under the current version of the bill, teachers, parents, school administrators, community residents, public organizations, nonprofit organizations “or a combination thereof” can apply to form charter schools.

Senate President Pro Tem David Givens said it’s a “safe presumption” that for-profits would be prohibited because the bill’s language doesn’t explicitly allow them.

Sen. Ray Jones, a Democrat from Pikeville, argued that the bill would violate a landmark Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that said public school funding system must be “substantially uniform.”

“How can you say to any child that you can’t go to a charter school that’s funded with taxpayer money,” Jones asked. “How can you say ‘first come first serve’ is fair? What happens to the kids that are able to go to the charter school versus the kids that are left in the failing school?”

Questions remain over how charter schools will be funded. Senate President Pro-tem David Givens said earlier in the day that a funding bill would likely come up late Wednesday, with language added to an already existing bill.

As of 5 p.m., that bill had not yet appeared.

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