Gov.-elect Matt Bevin singled out Fayette and Jefferson counties for "failing schools" in a radio interview Wednesday night in which he again strongly pitched charter schools, according to the Kentucky School Boards Association News Service.
Bevin said he wants to start with public charter schools to replace historically low-performing traditional public schools.
The news service said Bevin, appearing on the Mandy Connell talk show on WHAS-840 AM in Louisville, repeated his support for charter schools as a way of strengthening the state's public education system.
According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools website, charter schools are public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Because they are public schools, they are open to all children, do not charge tuition and do not have special entrance requirements.
On Thursday evening, Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto told the Herald-Leader that "Governor-elect Bevin is focused on assembling a strong team in this short transition period and putting together the budget for the upcoming session. In the coming months we will be working on how best to give all of Kentucky's children the educational opportunities they deserve."
Proposed charter school legislation failed in Kentucky's 2015 General Assembly.
"We are one of seven states that offers absolutely no competition for public education dollars. This is one of the reasons we are behind other states. We've got to introduce school choice into the state of Kentucky," Bevin said at the radio show.
"Let's walk before we run. Let's start with our failing schools in Jefferson County, Fayette County and other failing schools where decade after decade they've been failing."
The governor-elect said Kentucky needs competition for its state tax dollars, the news service said.
"Let's start with public charter schools, and put them in those communities where young people are being destined for failure by having to go to these failing schools. Why would we not? Who could possibly, with a straight face and in good conscience, make the case for why a young person should be destined to go to a failing school? I cannot fathom it. I will not tolerate it as governor. We will bring school choice to Kentucky, and it will improve our educational results in our public schools without any question in my mind," Bevin said.
Fayette County, as a district, improved its standing from a "needs improvement" rating to "proficient" in the state's accountability system in 2014-15. But there are a number of "needs improvement" schools in the district.
In the spring, former state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday told Fayette County school officials to reduce the number of "novice" learners in the district or face state action. District officials are now undergoing a painstaking improvement process.
Bevin said education in Kentucky "has suffered," but he said the blame doesn't rest with classroom teachers.
"We have not exactly led the nation in terms of results in our education system. Sadly, it has nothing to do with the fact that we have a tremendous number of qualified teachers. We've got extraordinarily good teachers, and many of them. But they are handcuffed by so much bureaucracy, so much red tape," he said.
"The teachers' union has become too powerful in this state, and it's become powerful at the expense of the teachers themselves and of the students. We say it's about the students, but it's not. It's about power and control," Bevin said.
"At the end of the day, we've got to make sure that we are educating our young people to be ready to go into the postsecondary world, into the work force, on to graduate school, on to traditional college or even vocational training. They are not being well prepared," he said.
In response, Kentucky Education Association president Stephanie Winkler said in an interview Thursday with the Herald-Leader, "It's great that he recognized that we have fantastic teachers in Kentucky, but he also needs to understand that all those great teachers in Kentucky are proud to belong to their union, and that is KEA."
"We are the public school teachers and public school classified employees that make our public schools in Kentucky great. We don't agree with his sentiment of needing public charter schools, because we have school choice now. You have the choice as a parent in Kentucky to send your children to private school or public school or even home-school your children. When we want to divert public tax dollars, ... divert those away from our public schools, that's not good economics in our book."
New Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said in a statement to the Herald-Leader, "I have not yet had the opportunity to meet with Gov.-elect Bevin to discuss his education priorities, including his thoughts on charter schools. I look forward to doing that, and working with him to find ways to ensure that all Kentucky students get the best education possible."