State lawmaker says he won't give up on charter-school bill

jwarren@herald-leader.comFebruary 19, 2012 

State Rep. Brad Montell says he doesn't know where his charter-school bill is headed in this session after a hearing in the House Education Committee last week, but he said he isn't giving up.

The education committee heard two hours of testimony from charter-school proponents and opponents Tuesday but did not vote to send House Bill 77 to the House floor.

Montell, a Shelbyville Republican, has been pushing charter legislation for at least three years, but Tuesday was the first time his proposal had gotten an actual committee hearing

"I don't know at this point if the House is inclined to take up this bill and actually vote on it," Montell said Thursday. "I'm not sure where the Senate is on the bill, but I believe they're probably more favorable than the House is. I can't tell you what the avenue is going to be, but we'll continue to work the issue."

Montell said he's hopeful that the education committee might provide time to discuss actual details of his bill, something that wasn't done Tuesday.

Education Committee chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway, said some committee members said they would like to discuss the bill. Rollins said he's open to more discussion.

"I don't mind doing that, but if we're going to discuss it, we probably should vote on it," he said. "I think I know pretty much what the votes are going to be."

Rollins said he doesn't think there are "anywhere near enough votes" to move the bill out of committee.

Kentucky is one of the few states that don't allow charter schools.

HB 77 would allow charter schools in Kentucky starting with the 2013-14 school year. Parents, teachers, private organizations or others could establish charter schools by applying to local school boards or to an appointed state Charter School Commission. After operating for five years, a charter would have to apply for a five-year permit renewal and would be judged based on student performance and other measures.

Montell, who has been refining his proposal for the past few years, said the current version is the "strongest bill we've had" and would give charters "the best chance to succeed."

But many Kentuckians have no idea what charter schools are. And the Kentucky Education Association and many educators question whether charters would improve education in the state.

Montell said charters could work alongside Kentucky's public schools and could help the "30 to 40 percent" of students who aren't flourishing in public schools. He also says many Kentuckians now want to know more as a result of television ads promoting charters that have been running across the state since the first of the year.

"I believe we've made a lot of progress, and I think the hearing on Tuesday was evidence of that," he said. "I believe there were some minds that perhaps weren't changed but are more open to the debate now."

Rollins, however, said he doubted anyone changed their minds Tuesday. Rollins, an acknowledged charter-school doubter, said he didn't think charters would work in Kentucky, where there are so many small, rural school districts.

"They don't work in small school districts. As a matter of fact, it's devastating in small school districts," he said.

Montell, however, said he'd like to see some kind of public forum where Kentuckians on both sides of the issue could debate and discuss ideas and concerns.

"If there are concerns, let's really have that discussion and flesh out how this would work," he said. "I think that's something we could shoot for, if not in the session perhaps in the interim."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255Twitter: @heraldleader

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