Members of the Kentucky Board of Education appear open to charter schools for Kentucky, although the panel did not take a position after a daylong study session Monday.
The board is going to review other states’ laws and is expected to come to a consensus at its December meeting in advance of the 2017 General Assembly.
No legislation had been prefiled in the General Assembly by Monday. In 2016, a bill failed in the legislature that would have allowed charter schools as a pilot in Fayette and Jefferson counties, urban districts that are grappling with an achievement gap between minority, disabled and low-income students and other students. But a charter school bill is much more likely to pass in the coming legislative session after Republicans won control of the state House in the election earlier this month.
“What I’ve not heard from anybody is absolutely we don’t want this to be part of the agenda,” Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt told state board members at Monday’s meeting in Frankfort. Pruitt said department officials would come back with recommendations “around what we’ve heard today.”
“Charters could be one tool in the utility belt,” Pruitt said. But he said that “no one thing” is going to fix the achievement gap.
Fourty-three states and Washington, D.C., have some form of charter schools, which can be public or private and can take many forms. Under the 2016 legislation, charter schools would have been part of the state’s public education system, but would have been exempt from some regulations. Charter schools would have been tuition-free and non-profit with no religious affiliation under that proposal.
Gov. Matt Bevin is a proponent of charter schools and is much more likely to get his way now that fellow Republicans control both houses of the legislature.
On Monday, the state board heard hours of testimony from researchers who had conducted studies on charter schools in other states.
Margaret Raymond, director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, told the state board that charter schools have had a significant benefit for disadvantaged students, but some states have had to overhaul their charter school laws.
State board members did not reach a consensus on whether they might recommend that district school boards, the Kentucky Board of Education, a state chartering authority or universities authorize charter schools in Kentucky.
“If we do enact charter-enabling legislation, we should do so with full knowledge of our nation’s successes and challenges with charter schools to ensure Kentucky’s law results in the highest quality charters and clear positive impacts on student learning,” said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, who spoke to the board.
State school board chairman William Twyman told the Herald-Leader that “I’m in favor of whatever provides the best education for our students. If charter school legislation is the way to go to help improve education, so be it.”
But Twyman said he did not want to duplicate tools that Kentucky already had in law, such as school districts of innovation that are given leeway to improve schools.
Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk who was in the audience during the daylong session, didn’t state a position on charter schools. He said he had experience with charters in other districts and he thought superintendents in urban districts in Kentucky need tools to more effectively intervene in schools.
Whether a school is a charter school or a district school, “it’s about having a great school,” Caulk said.
C.B. Akins, a former member of the Kentucky Board of Education and an education advocate in Lexington, said that he wanted to make sure there was equity for all students in Kentucky’s education system. If charter schools are a part of “that educational piece, then we need to make sure we’ve got equity there as well,” he said.