Charter schools coming to Ky.; lawmakers grant final passage

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FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky will join 43 other states that allow publicly funded charter schools under a bill that lawmakers passed with only three days remaining in the legislative session.

Gov. Matt Bevin and Education Secretary Hal Heiner, both longtime proponents of charter schools, pushed hard for the proposal.

“How brutal is it,” Bevin said Wednesday, “when your grandchild happens to go to the same failing school that your child went to? The reality is we have schools that have failed for generations.”

People crowded into a meeting of the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday for a 2 ½-hour debate on the charter school bill, sponsored by Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville.

Within hours, the bill passed the full Senate 23-15 and the House 53-43. They also gave final approval to legislation that could redirect a portion of funding from local districts to approved charter schools.

“What we want are charter schools that serve some of our most vulnerable students,” Carney said. “This bill gives preference to students with special needs, at risk students, and students of persistently low performing schools.”

Carney said 90 percent of Kentucky’s schools are doing outstanding work, and 90 percent are receiving quality educations.

“Ninety percent, for me, isn’t good enough.”

The legislation has faced major opposition from the Kentucky Education Association and many public school administrators who fear that they would lose students and state funding to charter schools.

Bevin said no public education system has been made worse by charter schools.

“In fact, competition has heightened everyone’s game,” he said. “Children are better for it.”

Heiner wrote a newspaper op-ed on Tuesday touting the benefits of charter schools.

“Charters’ greatest academic gains have been with low-income students and students of color; the very students Kentucky’s traditional public schools have struggled most to reach,” Heiner wrote. “The addition of public charter schools in Kentucky through HB 520 provides educators across the state with an additional tool for meeting the needs of those students.

LaTonya Wilson, a parent who sends her son to a charter school in Ohio, said it’s important to have options, because the traditional model doesn’t work for every child.

“Every child should have an opportunity to find the right fit, and every parent should have the opportunity to find the right fit for their child,” Wilson said.

Louisville Pastor Jerry Stephenson testified that only 7 percent of black students in Jefferson Country schools meet academic standards for college, and 81 percent read below grade level.

“That’s criminal,” he said.

Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler, a Madison County fourth grade teacher, said charter schools are a bad idea for the state.

“If charter schools were the answer to the student achievement gap, the professionals working with and trained to teach children would be advocating for them in droves,” Winkler said. “Yet, as you’ve heard over the last few months, educators are not in favor of creating public charter schools in Kentucky.”

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, expressed his concerns, as well.

“The bill would waive every single law or regulation ever passed by lawmakers or the Kentucky Board of Education for students in charter schools, except those relating to safety or civil and disability rights,” McKim said.

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