Third charter school bill introduced in Kentucky General Assembly

State Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville.
State Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville. Legislative Research Commission

Kentucky House Education Committee Chairman John Carney on Friday introduced a bill that would allow public charter schools to open in Kentucky in the 2018-19 school year.

HB 520 would allow only local school boards to review and approve public charter applications, Carney said. Denials could be appealed to the Kentucky Board of Education. Carney’s legislation is the third charter school bill introduced in the 2017 General Assembly.

“As a public school teacher, I believe our existing traditional schools will, by far, continue to educate the vast majority of our students,’’ Carney, R-Campbellsville, said. “I also believe that this bill will set Kentucky on a path toward providing more public school options for students and families.”

“For more than two decades, public charter schools have been making a difference for students in other states and it’s past time that Kentucky allow these proven, innovative public schools,” Carney said. “My children attended traditional public schools that worked well for them. But one size doesn’t fit all and I’d like to see every single student in Kentucky attend a school that best meets their needs.”

A school board could approve and oversee — the word used in the legislation is “authorize” — an unlimited number of public charter schools within the boundary of the local school district. Carney told the Herald-Leader Friday that he didn’t anticipate “having a ton of charters and frankly I think it would be better if we have just a few to start.”

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.

Fayette County Public Schools’ No. 1 legislative priority is that school districts be allowed to oversee charter schools,

Lawmakers, lobbyists and education officials have all said that some form of charter school legislation is likely to pass in 2017. 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.

Carney, a Taylor County school official, said that if HB 520 becomes law, it would make Kentucky the 44th state in the country to allow public charter schools.

Carney said in his statement that the bill provides a high level of flexibility and autonomy and still requires that all public charter schools take the same state assessment and follow the same health, life, safety, financial and transparency laws as all other public schools. In addition, enrollment preferences will be given to students living in the district, students who are eligible for free or reduced priced-price lunch, and students attending persistently low-achieving schools.

Two other charter school bills have been introduced in the 2017 General Assembly. House Bill 103, filed by state Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, 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, House 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.

Like the other bills, Carney’s bill calls for charter schools to be non-sectarian. Moffett and Neal’s bill haven’t had committee hearings. Carney’s bill is expected to be heard Wednesday by the House Education Committee, the news release said.

Carney's legislation “is based upon best practices that have produced high-performing public charter schools in many other states. Parents, teachers, and communities can be assured that we will have public charter school options where they are needed, and that we are inviting only the highest-quality public charter schools to serve students in Kentucky,” Joel Adams, of the Kentucky Charter School Project said in the news release announcing Carney’s bill.

Charter school legislation has opposition, including the Louisville-based group called Save Our Schools Kentucky. Critics point to problems in other states including Ohio and say that charter schools don’t perform any better than public schools when adjusted for demographics.

Fayette County Schools district officials have generally opposed charter schools, but they want to be part of the process if they are inevitable.

On Feb. 13, Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk told the Herald-Leader that a proposed new process in the district for approving innovative programs in the proposal stage will also work if the General Assembly passes legislation that allow school districts to oversee public charter schools.

Fayette County Schools periodically start up a new innovative program such as the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, STEAM Academy or Opportunity Middle College. A program to help students at risk of dropping out is being discussed.

At the Feb. 13 board planning meeting, district officials introduced a process for developing and proposing a new idea for a school or program that targets a specific, underserved population of students.

“Now we have a clear process to incubate those ideas,” Caulk said.

Like other innovative programs, proposed charter schools would also have to undergo a rigorous evaluation to make sure that “high quality” programs were implemented, Caulk said.

Among other components of the new process, applicants proposing to launch innovative schools would be expected to provide compelling evidence for the need and demand for their program in Lexington. The school board is expected to vote on the proposed new process Feb. 27.

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