After several years, a bill allowing charter schools in Kentucky has received a hearing in a House committee. Advocates for and against the measure spent Tuesday debating the merits of the education reform in the capitol. Charter school administrators from other states joined Rep. Brad Montell, the bill’s sponsor, and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce president Dave Adkission in support of the bill.
If approved, charter schools would operate as public schools in Kentucky, meaning they could receive public funds. And House Bill 77 allows for charters to be approved either by local school boards or a new state oversight agency. If a charter doesn't turn things around in a district in five years, it can be shuttered.
Opponents often point to mixed performance results as proof that charters are not a cure-all for education. But Adkission says that’s a poor argument.
“You know the best argument I’ve heard against charter schools has been well the results are mixed, the research on these is mixed," he says. "You know I have three grandkids in Lexington. If they were stuck in a consistently low-performing schools and if somebody said, by the way, there’s an alternative but the results are mixed, I would gamble on mixed results every time.”
Opponents against charter schools included the Kentucky Education Association and a few of its members and the state association of school superintendents.
The teachers urged lawmakers to wait for current reforms to fully take effect before trying charter schools. And they say allowing charters would take away needed money for current school projects. And Executive Director of the State Association for School Superintendents Wilson Sears says current public schools get too much blame. He says charter school advocates don't account for the personal and social factors that lead students to bad get grades.
“These are not problems created by public schools, although we are routinely criticized for not solving them," he says. "Furthermore, these are no problems that can be solved by charter schools, magnet schools, home schooling or private schooling. There are no magic solutions.”
Charter school advocates said some charters, called wrap-arounds, allow students to stay at the school for longer hours than normal to compensate for bad home lives.
House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins says the panel will continue holding hearings until lawmakers feel confident in their knowledge of the issue.