charter schools

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The chairman of the Kentucky House Education Committee has introduced legislation that would allow charter schools to open in the commonwealth.

Unlike past versions limited to pilot projects, the bill introduced Friday by House Education Committee Chairman John "Bam" Carney would allow public charter schools statewide.

The Campbellsville Republican plans to have his bill heard in committee next week.

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When Kentucky lawmakers return to Frankfort next week, they’re expected to take up charter school legislation.

Republican leaders are confident that some form of charter school enabling legislation will pass this session. But now, the debate has shifted to whether to permit the schools across the state or just in Lexington and Louisville.

A Divided Majority?

Kentucky is one of only seven states in the nation without charter schools, and most people predict that will change this year. But earlier this week at a meeting of Greater Louisville Inc., the Louisville area’s chamber of commerce, House Speaker Jeff Hoover tapped the brakes slightly on a statewide charter school bill.

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A key Senate committee today voted to approve the nomination of Betsy DeVos, a school choice activist and billionaire Republican donor, to be Secretary of Education, despite fierce objections of Senate Democrats, teachers' unions and others. There's much speculation as to exactly how she might carry out President Trump's stated priority of increasing school choice.

A significant clue comes from the American Federation for Children, the advocacy organization DeVos chaired until she was nominated. AFC supports both publicly funded charter schools and even more so, "private school choice" — publicly sponsored programs that give families money to spend on tuition at private schools.

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Kentucky is one of seven states in the U.S. that doesn’t allow charter schools. But the General Assembly is likely to soon approve a bill that would make the organizations a reality in the Bluegrass.

Lawmakers will return next week to consider the measure. So what exactly are charter schools, and are they effective?

Supporters have pushed to open Kentucky up to charter schools for years, but opponents, most notably the state teacher’s union, successfully lobbied to keep the policy from passing enabling legislation into law.

During a legislative hearing last year, Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner gave an impassioned speech in favor of charters, calling out the Kentucky Educators Association for opposing them.

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Attorney General Andy Beshear says if the legislature approves a bill to allow charter schools in the state, it needs to make sure public schools are adequately funded under the new system to avoid stepping on the toes of a landmark state Supreme Court ruling.

“I think that the legislature needs to be careful that any money that they’re going to siphon out of the public school system they are replacing,” Beshear said.

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The Kentucky Board of Education has approved a list of principles to guide state policymakers if the legislature passes a bill clearing the way for charter schools in the state. Kentucky is one of seven states that don’t allow charters — schools that use public dollars but are operated by organizations besides the state like nonprofits, for-profit companies, or groups of parents.

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The Kentucky Board of Education is holding a special meeting Monday morning to study charter schools.

Such schools are similar to public schools in that they use public dollars and are funded based on student enrollment. They’re also controversial because they can be operated by nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies or groups of parents and teachers.

Kentucky is among a handful of states that don’t have charter schools.

But with Republicans now in full control of the state legislature that could change.

Legislation favoring charter schools has faltered in the state House, which was long-controlled by Democrats.

Kentucky LRC

A measure approved in the state Senate would allow for the creation of piloted charter schools in Kentucky's two largest cities. However, the bill is expected to run into heavier opposition in the House.

If enacted, up to five charter schools could open in Louisville and Lexington over the next five years.  Senator Mike Wilson of Bowling Green, the bill’s sponsor, says the charters would be funded in the same way other public schools are supported with certified teachers in classrooms. 

"It gives the principal freedom for hiring his own teachers for the school and gives the teachers the freedom not to work on all the compliance issues, but really do what they love to do, which is teach our kids," said Wilson.

Wilson believes charter schools could help address achievement gap concerns.  Lexington Senator Gerald Thomas says he hasn't seen many requests for charters. "We've had no testimony from any parent saying that they feel a need for this legislation," said Thomas.

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A bill that would allow persistently low-achieving public schools to convert to privately-run charter schools has cleared the Kentucky Senate.

The measure passed the Republican-led chamber by a 22-14 party line vote. It would allow certified teaching staff and parents to petition the school’s principal to hold a vote on whether a privately run charter organization should be in charge of the school.

Sen. Mike Wilson, a Republican from Bowling Green, sponsored the bill.

“It’s only allowed in conversions for these low-achieving schools, and schools do remain accountable to the local board, who is, that who is the contract is with, and it’s only for a period of five years,” said Wilson.

Wilson filed similar legislation last year, only for it die in the Democratic-controlled House.

Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville, spoke against the bill on the Senate floor. He took issue with the notion that charter schools are a cure-all for education.

A Tennessee panel that could authorize charter schools to open anywhere in the state is moving forward against the objections of Democrats and a few rural Republicans.

The proposal would require that charter applicants first ask the local school board for permission to open a publicly funded, privately run school. If the answer is no, they could go to the new independent state panel that would have the final say-so.

Rep. Curtis Halford is a Republican from west Tennessee, where there are no charter schools at this point. He spoke against the state authorizer in a House committee.

“Is it just kind of like if you don’t get the answer you want from mom you go to dad?,” asked Halford.

Kentucky Senate OKs Charter School Bill

Mar 6, 2013

Voting along strict party lines, the Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would allow persistently low-performing public schools to become charter schools.

Under the legislation, school officials would submit applications to the local board of education to turn a school into a charter, the board of education would decide whether to allow them to become a charter school. A two-thirds majority vote by the school board would decide whether a school would become a charter school. 

"I believe that we need to give everybody a great education here," said state Sen. Mike Wilson, a Republican from Bowling Green, the bill's sponsor.

"Otherwise, I would not have agreed to serve as the chair of the Senate Education Committee I have a passion for education, to see our kids educated properly."

The Tennessee House will consider creating an entirely new panel for authorizing charter schools at the state level. It’s part of a compromise set to be heard in an education committee Tuesday.

The original bill is a direct response to the repeated rejection of Great Hearts Academies by Metro Schools last year. It gives the state board of education power to OK charter schools and oversee them.

But the state board has concerns about possibly taking on the job of managing privately-run, publicly financed schools. Rep. Mark White says he now hopes to create a completely separate board appointed by the governor and speakers of the House and Senate. 

“Now with this panel, this will be something that shows we’re serious about this. We want good charter applications to come to this state, but we’re going to do it right,” said Rep. White.

The state Senator shepherding Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s school voucher bill through the legislature says it doesn’t go nearly far enough. He says he will offer an amendment making many more students eligible to have their private school tuition paid with public money.

With proposed restrictions limiting vouchers to poor students attending struggling schools, Senator Brian Kelsey says just 3.5 percent of Tennessee students would qualify. And only a fraction of those would take the offer.

“After we do all this heavy lifting to work on this bill this year, if we end up with only two-thousandths of one percent of students being helped by it, I will be sorely disappointed,” said Sen. Kelsey.

Kelsey has yet to outline his amendment and says he will discuss it with the governor, who earlier this week said he likes his voucher bill the way it is.

Tennessee lawmakers raised several reservations but ultimately passed Governor Bill Haslam’s school voucher program in its first test.

Two members of the House Education Subcommittee voted no, including one Republican. The former school superintendent says he doesn’t believe public money should be diverted to private schools.

Democrat Joe Pitts of Clarksville voted no after asking if private schools would be forced to still provide a free lunch. Only poor students could qualify for vouchers under the plan.

“I’m just really concerned that we’re targeting that at-risk population, but we’re really not doing anything else to supply that basic human need, which is food,” said Pitts.

Kentucky's persistently low-achieving schools would be able to become charter schools to improve performance and test scores under a bill discussed Tuesday in the state Senate Education Committee.

The bill adds charters as a fifth option for what the state now calls "priority schools—schools that persistently get low scores. The current options include re-staffing of teachers, firing the principal, giving the school up to outside management or closing the schools.

Kentucky is one of seven states that doesn't allow for some sort of charter school—public schools that are generally governed independently from local school boards and given flexibility in teaching methods. Past efforts which would have opened charters to schools that weren't persistently low-performing have failed to pass through the General Assembly.

This legislation, Senate Bill 176, offers a different path, because only those schools who qualify as low-achieving could apply for charter status to their local school board.

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