Bringing charter schools to Kentucky has long been a goal of Republicans in the state, and especially GOP members of the Senate, which has made the issue a priority in recent legislative sessions.
Every year since 2010, the Senate has approved legislation authorizing charter schools. But it has been ignored by the Democratic House, putting the bill in a perpetual stall.
That could change with a new governor in the statehouse during next year’s legislative session. Both major candidates for governor say they’re in favor of implementing some form of charter school legislation.
Democrat Jack Conway said in an interview he supports the concept of charters as long as they don’t take funds away from public schools.
“If it’s a charter where bureaucracy is getting out of the way and allowing for innovation, and it’s transparent, and we’re not in the situation where we’re siphoning off public dollars, then yes, I’m in for more flexibility in the public school system,” Conway said.
He added that he wants to make sure for-profit charter school companies can’t “cherry pick” the best students, leaving an underclass in the rest of the public education system.
Charter schools are similar to public schools in that they use public dollars and are funded based on student enrollment, but they are operated by nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, or even groups of parents and teachers. Proponents of the programs say they allow for more flexible curricula and encourage schools to excel through competition for students.
Bevin said public education funding “should follow the child.”
“I think we need some competition for public education dollars,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s a better use of the dollars. No monopoly ultimately serves people well, including in the public education arena.”
Bevin said he wants counties to be able to fund charter schools operated by local parents and teachers. He also said until charter school policies are adopted, children who are home-schooled and their parents should have access to public resources made available to kids who attend public schools.
Independent candidate Drew Curtis said he’s open to the idea of charter schools, especially if they help low-income children.
“Show me a system that works, and I’ll consider it,” he said. “And if I don’t find an implementation that has worked elsewhere, we’ll wait.”
Kentucky is one of eight states that doesn’t allow charter schools.
Gov. Steve Beshear has remained largely ambivalent on charters, although he has been open to the idea.
Frankfort Democrat Derrick Graham, chairman of the House Education Committee, has opposed legislation that would allow for-profit charters to form across the state. However, he told WFPL he would support allowing nonprofit charters to be approved by local school districts.
“I think if you talk to most members, they want local control. In other words, the local taxpayers, the school board, the local superintendent ought to be the ones to decide that,” Graham said.
“I would be opposed to any charter school bill that would take money away from public schools and put it in the hands of a private entity to run a charter school, because then it’s taking money away from the public school system.”
The Kentucky Education Association, which has strongly opposed charters in the past, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.