“I feel like the education isn’t good and they’re just warehousing kids to be on the streets, sort of like a daycare for kids. We not getting any education, and I feel like a charter school would help that,” said James Yarbrough, a student at a school classified by the state as low-achieving and one of the rally participants.
His mother, Lenora Yarbrough, said she’s not sure charter schools provide the entire answer, but she thinks they could be part of a formula that improves education.
“It’s just time for a change,” she said. I’m for charter schools. I’m for vouchers. I’m for home schooling, any option that will grant our children the access to excel in education.”
Past efforts to bring charter schools to Kentucky have failed in the General Assembly. This session, legislators are considering a bill that would allow persistently low-achieving schools to become charters, which are public schools governed outside of the local school board and given more leeway in teaching methods. The bill makes being a charter school one of five options for those persistently low-achieving schools.
The Kentucky Education Association is a steadfast opponent of charter schools.
KEA President Sharron Oxendine argues public school teachers have many of the same goals as people who back charter schools. They want smaller classes, more parental involvement and additional resources.
“We’re all going for what’s best for Kentucky’s kids, but we want every child to benefit from those charter type situations, instead of a select few in particular parts of the state,” Oxendine said.
When the committee voted on the bill, state Sen. Alice Kerr admitted her support for charter schools came slowly; she notes that she comes from a family of public school teachers.
“Let’s get a little bit of love going between us all and not see this as a partisan issue, but as a children’s issue. I vote aye,” said Kerr, a Lexington Republican.
The debate in Frankfort is along party lines—Republicans generally favoring charter schools and Democrats opposing. Those in opposition include Sen. Gerald Neal; he said he worries about the consequences of adding charter schools to Kentucky.
“My concern is one of accountability and what happens to public money down the road when things don’t go well,” said Neal, a Louisville Democrat. “The authority’s been granted, the plans are in place, you’ve put your board as prescribe under here in place. Then what happens between these entities in respect to that.”
Despite such concerns, the charter school bill is expected to pass the Kentucky state Senate. But, in the past, the House has not welcomed charter school legislation. Woodford County Representative Carl Rollins chairs the House Education Committee.
“All the research I’ve seen, the serious research shows that they don’t work very well. There’s anecdotal evidence that some work, but whenever you look overall, they don’t work very well, so we’ll consider that,” said state Rep. Carl Rollins, a Midway Democrat who chairs the House Education Committee.