As Lawmakers Work Toward Compromise, Fate Of Charter Schools Bill Is Uncertain

Mar 9, 2017

Sen. Mike Wilson, a Republican from Bowling Green, chairs the Kentucky Senate Education Committee
Credit Kentucky LRC

The chair of the Senate Education Committee says he expects a revised version of the charter schools bill to be presented next week so that lawmakers have time to pass the legislation before time runs out on the General Assembly.

Lawmakers have been meeting privately with interest groups this week and several disagreements remain over whether to allow the schools to take root statewide, how many entities should be able to authorize charters and how to ensure the organizations won’t sap money from traditional public schools.

“I anticipate there probably would be agreement on the bill but again, I can’t be 100 percent on it,” says Sen. Mike Wilson, a Republican from Bowling Green. “I feel pretty confident that we will end up with a charter school bill.”

Wilson says there are issues that need to be “cleaned up” in the bill and that meetings have been taking place between members of both legislative chambers.

“Everybody has kind of different ideas and the whole idea of working together is compromise,” he says.

The bill would allow community residents, public organizations and nonprofits to apply for charters to operate the schools, which would be exempted from most state regulations except for safety, civil rights, and disability protections.

Supporters of the policy say it would give charters more freedom to innovate and give parents more choices of where to send their children to school.

The House last week passed House Bill 520, which would allow charters to open up across the state and give the state board of education final say on approving applications for the schools.

Organizations would have to first apply to local school boards or the mayors of Lexington and Louisville for charter contracts, but denials could be appealed to the state board.

Wilson said one of the issues still on the table is whether to move forward with a statewide charter bill or limit the schools to a pilot program in certain areas.

“We’ve had input that people like the pilot idea better,” Wilson says. “Probably it just remains to be seen.”

There are no geographic caps or limits to the number of charters in the state under the current version of the bill.

Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville, says a pilot version of the bill would allow the state to develop its own policies, instead of only relying on best practices from other states.

“You can’t just take something someplace else and put it somewhere and all the sudden it’s going to work,” Neal says. “It has to almost be home-grown. You have to adapt to the realities of where you are.”

Opponents to the policy say charters siphon money away from traditional public schools.

Charter schools would be funded by the state on a per-pupil basis much like traditional public schools and funding would “follow” students if they transfer from a traditional school to a charter.

Lawmakers have four more official working days during the legislative session, though a 10-day “veto period” begins next week. The General Assembly will officially adjourn on March 30.