Republicans push charter schools, other changes in Kentucky education

Republican state lawmakers have filed legislation for the 2017 General Assembly that would lead to significant changes for Kentucky public education, including charter schools, the statewide school accountability system and teacher requirements.

Republicans have control of the state House for the first time since 1921. Education bills that failed in the past could be on the fast track under the Republican majority. The session resumes in February. Proposed legislation includes:

▪ House Bill 103, filed by state Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, which would allow more people or boards to oversee a charter school than Senate Bill 70, filed by Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville.

The language in Bill 70 would allow a pilot charter school program only in Jefferson County with oversight by the local school board, but Neal said his intent was to include Fayette County’s school board if there was interest in Fayette. Beginning in academic year 2018-2019 and continuing through academic year 2022-2023, the charter school pilot project would allow the largest school district in a county with a consolidated local government to authorize a maximum of two charter schools per academic year.

Moffett’s bill, Bill 103, would not limit charter schools to a pilot, to specific school districts or to local school board district oversight.

Those providing oversight, according to Moffett’s bill, could include a mayor’s office in Louisville or Lexington, a local school district, a postsecondary institution governing board, the Council on Postsecondary Education or the Kentucky Board of Education.

Moffett’s bill says public charter schools would be nonsectarian. The charter schools would have a governing board.

The public charter schools organizer would enter into a performance-based contract, or charter, that spells out the school’s governance, funding, accountability and flexibility.

“It’s about increasing the percentage of students who are performing at or above grade level,” Moffett said.

Gay Adelmann said she is founder of a Louisville-based group called Save Our Schools Kentucky, which will oppose HB 103. She said a Lexington chapter is starting.

Charter schools, Adelmann said, “don’t work.”

“There’s no evidence that proves that they do any better than public schools when adjusted for demographics, they pick and choose their students that attend, and they open the door for abuse, fraud and waste,” said Adelmann. She said charter school systems in Ohio and other states have had problems.

House Bill 103 also includes a mechanism for “opportunity schools” that would develop innovative plans in exchange for leeway from some regulations and would be approved by the state board of education.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, referred questions about the bills to Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, who serves on the Senate Education Committee. Thomas said he does not like House Bill 103 because he thought charter schools should remain under the control of local school boards.

▪ Senate Bill 80, filed by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, which would “prohibit the Education Professional Standards Board from imposing conditions for a teacher to maintain his or her certification.”

Wilson said in an interview that the bill deletes the requirement for teachers to start getting their master’s degree within five years of beginning their teaching careers and to finish it within 10 years.

“All we are doing with the bill is removing the artificial timelines,” Wilson said. He said professional development requirements and the pay raise incentives for getting master’s degrees will remain.

“It’s leaving all the carrots out there, but removing the whip,” he said.

Wilson said he hopes the legislation will help ease the teacher shortage.

Brigitte Blom Ramsey, director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said teachers have expressed concern that “the loss of the master’s degree requirement will de-professionalize their industry.”

“The education our teachers receive and their continued professional development has an important impact on the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom,” Ramsey said.

Cassie Reding, a teacher from Russellville, said when she posted on Facebook about Senate Bill 80, she received at least 45 comments that revealed “an array of opinions.”

Reding is concerned that not having a master’s degree will lead to teachers getting less respect. “I’ve obtained graduate degrees because that’s the standard for the profession I chose, and I feel like that standard is appropriate considering the skill and responsibility involved,” Reding told the Herald-Leader.

Thomas, the Democratic legislator, said he thinks Senate Bill 80 is “OK” because you don’t have to have a master’s degree to be “a master teacher.” He said he would improve it by having the education professional standards board come up with a mandate to measure a teacher’s growth throughout their career.

Jimmy Adams, executive director of the education professional standards board, said his group was willing to work with Wilson. He said there is an 87.8 percent retention rate of teachers with a master’s degree. The median increase in salary for teachers getting a master’s degree is $4,162. In 2014-15, a first-year teacher’s salary with a master’s degree was nearly $16,000 more than that of a teacher with only a bachelor’s degree, he said.

▪ Senate Bill 1, also filed by Wilson, which among other provisions would allow a new process for reviewing classroom academic standards and for intervening in low performing schools.

Wilson said it returns Kentucky’s education system to state and local control rather than “big federal overreach.”

Wilson said he had positive feedback on the bill from teachers and other people he described as “stakeholders.”

Ramsey said Senate Bill 1 is much improved over similar legislation filed in 2016.

“There is a clear focus throughout on intervening to close the achievement gap and increasing student achievement for all students,” she said.

But she has concerns about a “bands of schools” provision that compares similar schools to each other.

“We don’t want something like the “bands of schools” to set up a system where some schools, and students, are held to lower standards than other schools and students. We need to ensure all students are expected to meet a standard that prepares them for success after high school and that our schools have the resources to help students be successful,” Ramsey said.

Thomas said he thinks that one intent behind Senate Bill 1 is to get rid of academic standards that reflect the Common Core standards. The standards came under criticism after President Obama’s education department endorsed them and began tying some federal dollars to a state’s adoption of them.

“If the legislature wants to get rid of the Common Core, that’s fine,” Thomas said. But he said the state board of education should come up with a substitute “that makes our children able to compete on a world wide level.”

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