Education Kentucky Politics

A bill to fund charter schools in Kentucky has cleared the state House of Representatives, bringing the privately managed but publicly funded institutions one step closer to becoming a reality in the state..  

Hours after House Bill 9 squeaked through the House Education Committee Tuesday morning, it passed the full House, but only by the slimmest of margins. The measure got 51 votes, the exact number needed to pass. Opposition to the bill was bipartisan–22 Republicans joined all Democrats, for a total of 46 votes against.

The bill would require school districts to fund charter schools approved within their boundaries. It also mandates the creation of charter schools in Jefferson County and northern Kentucky within the next two years.

Rep. Chad McCoy, a Republican from Bardstown and sponsor of the bill, said it would improve the state’s education system.

“It’s not going to be the panacea. It’s not going to cure all of our woes. It’s just another option for parents to choose,” McCoy said.

The vote came after more than three hours of debate, in which Democrats, and some Republicans, railed against the measure.

Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg, said the bill would “siphon off money and resources that are already in such short supply.”

“That will amount to less opportunities for mountain kids and for farm kids to succeed,” Hatton said.

The measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has said he would veto the bill if it passes. But lawmakers can easily override a governor’s veto with a majority vote in both legislative chambers.

Some public education advocates have already promised legal action if the measure becomes law.

Earlier

The Kentucky House Education Committee voted 11-9 to approve a funding mechanism for charter schools, after swapping out a committee member for the bill’s sponsor in the days before the vote.

Charter schools are schools run by private groups, but are funded with taxpayer dollars. They’ve been legal in Kentucky since 2017, but they never took off because lawmakers didn’t set up a permanent way to fund them. House Bill 9 would create the funding mechanism needed for charters to get off the ground.

https://wfpl.org/new-house-bill-would-fund-charter-schools-in-kentucky/

Under the measure, if charter schools are approved by local “authorizers,” public school districts would be required to fund them within their borders.

The legislation also creates parameters for who can become charter school authorizers. These are bodies that review applications from would-be charter school groups, and determine whether to grant them a charter, and for how long. The measure limits authorizers to school boards, the mayors of Louisville and Lexington, and the governing board of Northern Kentucky University. That’s a departure from an earlier version of the bill, which would have created a slew of authorizing bodies. 

Charters mandated for Louisville and Northern Kentucky

In another departure from the original bill, the latest version  not only creates a path to fund charters, it mandates them to be created in Louisville and Northern Kentucky.

The measure requires the Jefferson County Board of Education to approve at least one charter school by July 2023. The charter would have to be granted for at least a five-year term.

In northern Kentucky, the measure requires a charter school to be authorized by either the Northern Kentucky University board of regents or a “collective” of local school boards by July 2024.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Chad McCoy of Bardstown, called the proposed mandate a “pilot program,” for the west Louisville and northern Kentucky regions. He referred to these areas—which are majority-Black or Latino and low-income—as “education deserts.”

“We are failing the minority kids in the West End of Louisville, when it comes to education—period,” McCoy said.

Backers of charters often say they create an alternative for students who can’t afford private school, but aren’t thriving in traditional public schools. Research on charters’ impact is mixed, with some studies showing improvements in test scores, and others showing little to no impact.

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a Louisville Democrat and teacher in Jefferson County Public Schools, bristled at the characterization of her district.

“To flat out say that we are failing our minority kids in west Louisville without sitting down and collaborating with JCPS with [JCPS Superintendent Marty] Pollio is just so frustrating to me as a JCPS teacher,” Bojanowski said.

Musical chairs in committee

Another Louisville Democrat, Rep. Lisa Willner, blasted her Republican colleagues for swapping out committee members ahead of the vote.

The measure was originally slated to be heard last week in the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, but Willner said House Republican leaders  pulled it from the agenda because they knew it wouldn’t have the votes to pass. Charter schools are controversial among Democrats, and some rural Republicans who worry they will skim funding and students from cash-strapped schools.

Willner said the bill was given to the House Education Committee, but only after swapping out one committee member, Morehead Republican Rep. Richard White, for McCoy, the bill’s sponsor.

“This is not good democratic process. This is not good governance. This is not good process,” Willner said. “This is not transparency. And I hope that my statement just now made transparent some of the games that have been played on this bill.”

The measure still needs to pass the full House and get through the Senate to pass. Its future is unclear in both chambers, and it faces a certain veto by Gov. Andy Beshear, who recently called charter schools “unconstitutional.”

https://wfpl.org/gov-beshear-calls-charter-schools-unconstitutional-ahead-of-funding-proposal/[/related_story

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.