Now that Kentucky has a brand new law allowing charter schools for the first time and giving them “freedom and flexibility” to meet “a variety of student needs,” someone should identify the laws and regulations that are blocking traditional schools from doing the same.
During the recent legislative debate, we kept hearing about how charter schools would be free to provide new and more effective options.
In a congratulatory statement after Gov. Matt Bevin signed the law, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell praised the “flexibility offered by public charter schools” to encourage educators to “use good judgment in innovative ways.”
So, what exactly is creating the inflexibility in traditional schools?
Someone should get to the bottom of that because even the most ardent proponents of charter schools say charters will only ever educate a small fraction of Kentucky’s youngsters.
If the schools and educators who will educate the overwhelming majority of Kentuckians are really so tangled in red tape as to be ineffective, let’s do something about that, pronto.
Of course, some of the laws from which charter schools will be exempt, such as accelerated learning opportunities and individual learning plans, were sponsored by Republican lawmakers because they thought they would better prepare students for college and work.
The new law says charters must comply with health, safety, civil rights and disability laws and other requirements, including employing certified teachers.
But they will not be required to provide free and reduced-price meals for low-income students. That particular form of flexibility seems at odds with proponents’ promises that charters will serve poor families who have extraordinary needs and are being failed by their public schools. It’s also at odds with promises that charter schools won’t cherry-pick students.
The final version of the charter bill and a related funding bill were rushed through both chambers in a single day last week. But even that limited debate made clear that charters will be able to skim easier-to-teach students from existing schools, leaving students who are most at risk of failure while their school’s funding is reduced by the enrollment loss. The Republicans who control the legislature were given opportunities to amend the bill to make clear that charters “shall” (not “may”) give preference to admitting students who come from low-income homes, have disabilities or are English-language learners. They always declined.
One bit of freedom bestowed on charter schools is peculiar. House Bill 520, as approved by the House, required charters to comply with state procurement law, which requires competitive bidding for goods and services.
But the bill that came out of the Senate and was signed by Bevin lets charters opt out of competitive bidding and instead make monthly reports of purchases over $10,000.
Some prominent Republicans are lobbyists for out-of-state companies that manage charter schools. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, benefits from this unusual flexibility added without discussion at the 11th hour.