Fayette County school board member Doug Barnett, an attorney, says school district officials should consider challenging the constitutionality of the law that will allow charter schools in Kentucky for the first time.
“I think we need to have a discussion ... about possibly bringing that up in the courts. Because I think that’s where this is going to end up being settled eventually,” Barnett said at Monday night’s board meeting. “I don't think we can fight the battle alone. I think we are going to have to approach Jefferson County, Warren County, Franklin County,” and independent city school districts to ask them to potentially take court action.
Gov. Matt Bevin signed House Bill 520 into law earlier this month against the protests of many public educators, who fear that charter schools will drain resources from public schools. Proponents say charter schools could help low-performing students.
Barnett cited language in the state constitution that he says shows that the new law is unconstitutional in that the law allows mayors of Louisville and Lexington to approve and oversee charter schools and allows local school funding to be given to public charter schools. Barnett said he doesn’t think those provisions are allowed under the Kentucky constitution.
Barnett said there is a lack of a clear standard for a judicial review when boards of education deny charter school applications. He said the standard for judicial review contained in the new law appears to be arbitrary and subject to multiple interpretations.
Barnett brought up the issue during a school board meeting Monday, when the school district’s General Assembly lobbyist, Bob Babbage, was discussing the state’s new charter school law.
Fayette school board chairwoman Melissa Bacon said Tuesday that the school board should discuss the questions raised by Barnett. But she emphasized that “one board member questioning the law does not mean the school board might challenge it.”
Under HB 520, local school boards and the mayors of Louisville and Lexington could approve and oversee an unlimited number of charter schools beginning in the 2017-18 school year. Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt told the Kentucky School Boards Association News Service recently that it would take several months for charter school regulations to be enacted; officials are now saying it would be the 2018-19 school year before charter schools would be approved to open.
In public charter schools, an organizer would enter into a performance-based contract, or charter, with an oversight board or entity that spells out the school’s governance, funding, accountability and flexibility. Charter schools would be part of the state’s public education system.
A separate appropriations bill, also passed by the General Assembly, deals with the funding model for charter schools. Under HB 471, federal and per-pupil state funding would be allocated to charter schools just as it would any other public schools.