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Kentucky's first charter school director resigns after less than a year. Here's why.

Earl Simms, Director of Charter Schools for the Kentucky Department of Education, made a presentation during  a Fayette Board of Education meeting at  Central Office. To his right is  Kentucky Associate Education Commissioner Kevin Brown.
Earl Simms, Director of Charter Schools for the Kentucky Department of Education, made a presentation during a Fayette Board of Education meeting at Central Office. To his right is Kentucky Associate Education Commissioner Kevin Brown.

Less than a year after he was hired as the first director of the Kentucky Department of Education's charter school division, Earl Simms said he is resigning May 25 so that his wife can go back to her previous job in St. Louis.

Simms told WDRB-TV in Louisville and the Herald-Leader that he was not leaving because former Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt suddenly resigned in April at a state school board meeting, one day after Gov. Matt Bevin appointed several new board members.

The board of all-Bevin appointees that same day hired charter school proponent Wayne D. Lewis Jr. as an interim Commissioner. Lewis said he will apply for the permanent Commissioner post

"The decision was made well before then," Simms, who started the job in August, said Tuesday.

In addition to his wife's career decision, Simms told WDRB that his children missed their friends in St. Louis.

Charter schools were approved for the first time in Kentucky by the General Assembly in 2017 and regulations that cleared the way for charter schools to open were approved in March. But the 2018 General Assembly which wrapped up in April did not approve a permanent funding mechanism for charter schools as had been expected. That has led some people to say they won't apply to open charter schools as they had planned.

Though the charter school movement appears to be stalled, Lewis has said he will work with Kentucky Department of Education officials to determine if there is a path for charter schools that doesn't require the General Assembly to approve a funding mechanism.

Before he leaves Kentucky, Simms told WDRB he wants to finalize draft applications, evaluations, and contracts for charter school authorizers, which can be local school boards and the mayors of Lexington and Louisville.

Simms said he appreciates being hired and he hopes he "provided value to the department."

He says he's willing to help out or offer advice about charter schools even after he leaves.

"Just so the focus is on quality education outcomes for kids, I think the charter school sector has a bright future in the state," Simms told the Herald-Leader.

"The funding issue has to be worked out, whatever path that that takes." said Simms.

Critics say that charter schools stand to take money from typical public schools. Proponents say that charter schools can improve the performance of students and give parents another option.

Simms said the controversies over charter schools that Kentucky has seen is similar to the "start up processes" in every state. when charter schools are first approved.

Simms previously worked as the St. Louis director of the Office of Charter Schools with the University of Missouri College of Education He said he will look for a job in the area of charter school when he goes back to St. Louis., but he did not have a new position as of Tuesday.

Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said that what will happen to the position is under consideration and that officials have not decided when a new charter school division director will be hired. Simms earned an annual $90,000 in the position.

Wayne Lewis, newly appointed as interim education commissioner, said he 'had absolutely no idea' on what the board’s decision would be with appointing him, and speaks about his support for ‘high quality charter schools as a solution.’

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