A leading Kentucky charter schools advocate says he’s hopeful the state House leadership will choose a new chairman for the House education committee who is open to charter schools.
The chairmanship became vacant last week when Democratic state Rep. Carl Rollins resigned to lead the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority and the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation.
Rollins was a longtime opponent of charter schools, which are typically public schools governed independently from local school boards and given more leeway in teach methods.
“He was the obstacle to charter school legislation in the House, in that he would never allow that legislation to move out of his committee,” said Joe Burgan, the spokesman for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and an ally of Hal Heiner, the former Louisville mayoral candidate who has become a leading advocate for charter schools in Kentucky.
The resignation is an opportunity for charter schools advocates, said Burgan, who noted that Speaker Greg Stumbo has expressed openness to charters in the past.
“It’s our hope that his replacement for Rollins will be someone a little more open-minded and willing to work with us,” he said.
(Related: WFPL’s past coverage of charter schools.)
Burgan argued that Rollins’ opposition to charter schools is a reason that the issue has never reached the House floor, though it has won approval in the past in the state Senate. But Rollins counters that many members of the Democratic-controlled House oppose charter schools.
“I’m certainly not alone in that. And I would think whoever the next chair is would probably continue to oppose charter schools,” Rollins told Kentucky Public Radio.
Burgan also suggested that a conflict of interest exists because Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teacher’s Association, sits on the board for Rollins’ employer.
Rollins previously served as marketing manager for the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.
McKim disagrees that a conflict existed. He said board members don’t engage in personnel matters beyond the top leadership role and that he wasn’t on the screening committee that selected Rollins for his new role.
McKim added that JCTA and Rollins have butted heads in the past, including on a teacher evaluation bill in the last legislative session.
Still, McKim lauded Rollins’ work on the House education committee.
“We will miss his leadership in the House, no question,” McKim, who agreed with Rollins that opposition to charter schools was more widespread in the House than just the departing member.