Fayette schools’ No. 1 legislative priority? District control of charter schools

Fayette County Public Schools central office at 701 East Main Street, Lexington.
Fayette County Public Schools central office at 701 East Main Street, Lexington. Lexington

Local school districts should oversee charter schools if Kentucky’s General Assembly approves them in 2017, Fayette County school board members said Tuesday night at a meeting.

Board members won’t formally adopt legislative priorities until the monthly board meeting Jan. 23.

But in a meeting with Babbage Cofounder lobbyists Alan Stein, Keen Babbage and Bob Babbage, who was in Washington, D.C., and participated by conference call, board members reached consensus on several legislative issues.

Fayette County school officials have generally been opposed to charter schools, but board members want to have a role in setting state policy if charter schools are inevitable. In public charter schools, an organizer would enter into a performance-based contract, or charter, with an oversight board or entity that spells out the school’s governance, funding, accountability and flexibility.

“Given that charter schools appear to be on the horizon for Kentucky, Fayette County Board of Education members would like to ensure that implementation is fair and equitable,” district officials said in a news release after the meeting.

Republicans have control of the state House for the first time since 1921, and Gov. Matt Bevin, also a Republican, is in favor of charter schools. Education bills that failed in the past — as charter school legislation did — could be on the fast track under the Republican majority. Stein told the school board that he thought charter school legislation in some form would pass in 2017 and reminded them that legislation moved quickly when the General Assembly was in session for five days in January. The session resumes in February.

Last week, the board approved a yearlong contract with Babbage’s firm, Babbage Cofounder, for $60,750. Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board members said:

▪  Charter schools should be nonprofit and nonsectarian, and should reflect the demographics of the district where they are established. Board members think any legislation should have guidelines for closing a charter school.

▪  Public dollars should not be used to support programs, such as vouchers or tuition tax credits, that fund nonpublic schools.

▪  Local school districts should have control over establishing the instructional calendar. They also support reform of the teacher tribunal disciplinary process, support providing districts with more tools to intervene in low achieving schools, and support revising school decision-making council regulations to give superintendents greater authority in selecting principals.

▪  Education should get more funding, including universal prekindergarten. They will support restoring state funding for education to previous or adequate levels.

▪  Comprehensive tax reform is needed. They also said the unfunded liabilities of the public pension systems should be addressed.

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