4 charter schools would be possible in Fayette, Jefferson counties under proposed bill

In this 2014 file photo, Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, expressed his anger about the firing of Charles Booker, a legislative employee.
In this 2014 file photo, Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, expressed his anger about the firing of Charles Booker, a legislative employee.

Local school boards would be able to oversee a public charter school pilot project in Fayette and Jefferson counties under legislation State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, has prefiled for the 2017 General Assembly.

Beginning in academic year 2018-2019 and continuing through academic year 2022-2023, the charter school pilot project would allow a local school board in a county with a consolidated local government to authorize a maximum number of two charter schools per academic year.

Neal on Friday prefiled the 30-page bill that sets out how the charter school pilots would operate.

Unlike other public schools, a charter schools organizer enters into a performance-based contract, or charter, that spells out the school’s governance, funding, accountability and flexibility, education officials have said.

“With a little bit of creativity ...and making sure there is accountability, that there’s proper governance, and that there’s full transparency. These are the primary area of concern for me,” Neal told the Herald-Leader Monday.

Under the legislation, the schools would have to be nonsectarian. The charter schools would have boards of directors.

In 2016, a bill that would have allowed charter schools in Fayette and Jefferson counties failed. Fayette and Jefferson are urban districts with an achievement gap between minority, disabled and low-income students and other students.

Gov. Matt Bevin is in favor of charter schools, and a bill would be more likely to pass in the coming legislative session since Republicans won control of the state House in the election in November.

The state education board has not taken a position on charter schools but it has offered recommendations if legislation is inevitable. Several elements of Neal’s bill are similar to the recommendations.

Forty-three other states and Washington, D.C., have some form of charter schools.

Among the purposes of the charter school initiative, his legislation said, is to improve student learning by creating more high-performing schools, encourage the use of high-quality teaching and close achievement gaps between high-performing and low-performing groups of public school students.

Among other aspects of the bill:

▪ Charter schools would be allowed freedom and flexibility in exchange for exceptional levels of results.

▪ An application to establish a charter school could be submitted to a local school board by teachers, parents, school administrators, community residents, public organizations, private organizations, or a combination of those.

▪ Funding for a charter school would be negotiated as part of the charter agreement between the local school board and the charter school. At a minimum, the agreement would require the local board in which the charter school is located to provide funding to the charter school at levels comparable to funding provided to other schools in the school district.

▪ A charter school would submit an annual report to the school board and the state education commissioner citing measures of academic and fiscal performance of the school. The measures would include graduation rates, dropout rates, performance of students on standardized tests, college entry rates, student attendance and behavior records, student disciplinary actions, total spending per student and administrative spending per student.

▪ The local school board could revoke a charter contract, decide not to renew a charter contract, or place a charter school on probationary status if the charter school did not make adequate progress.

▪ Enrollment decisions would have to be made in a nondiscriminatory manner.

▪ Disabled students would receive services under the legislation.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears