Charter school bill may be stalled in Kentucky legislature

A charter school bill backed by Gov. Matt Bevin could be in trouble in the 2017 General Assembly.

“I want to pass a version that’s best for our kids and if that means continuing to work on it in the interim, then that’s certainly a possibility at this time,” state Rep. John Carney R-Campbellsville, sponsor of House Bill 520 and chairman of the House Education Committee, said Wednesday.

“We could put something out and pass a charter bill but my goal, and I think all of our goals, is to pass what’s best for our students. Let’s don’t rush that. It would be nice to get it done. We’re still hopeful we can get it done by the end of the session, but obviously the clock’s ticking and I’m not going to rush to pass a bill that I don’t think that helps kids,” Carney told the Herald-Leader. “If we have to work on it over the interim that’s certainly a possibility.”

“There’s still some other things that we’re trying to work on,” Carney said Wednesday afternoon. He said he was working on language regarding the financing of public charter schools.

House Bill 520 would allow school boards across Kentucky to approve and oversee an unlimited number of charter schools — the word used in the legislation is “authorize” — within a school district. If a school board denied an application of a charter school, the applicant could appeal to the Kentucky Board of Education.

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. A public charter school would be part of the state’s system of public education. But public charter schools would be exempt from state school laws and regulations, except the same health, safety, civil rights, and disability rights as public schools.

Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said charter schools could “divert resources from already underfunded public schools.”

House Bill 520 made a procedural advance Monday when the House gave the measure a first reading and then returned it to the House Education Committee. But it had not been called for a vote by Wednesday in the committee Carney chairs.

Carney, an employee of Taylor County Schools, said he thinks lawmakers could “put something together” that would be approved by the General Assembly “but that’s not good enough.”

“Obviously with a 30-day session we are starting to run short,” said Carney. “It’s a very fluid situation. The votes are close on the matter.”

Carney also said a provision in the bill that would allow “virtual” charter schools — a public charter school that offers educational services primarily or completely through an online program — will be deleted from the bill.

The Kentucky Education Association, an educators group, and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence were among those who opposed virtual charter schools. Representatives of the groups told the Herald-Leader Wednesday that they were opposed to virtual charter schools in part because research showed that they did not provide the best learning environment for students’ academic achievement.

Carney said the bill would still allow for blended learning, which combined brick and mortar charter schools and some courses in online learning, “but full-blown virtual charter schools will be coming out.”

Carney said there was a House Education committee meeting scheduled for Thursday, but he said House Bill 520 was not on the agenda as of about 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“Right now the agenda is still pending,” he said.

Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association, said her group opposes House Bill 520.

She said states that have charter schools still risk “large achievement gaps” for students of color, low income and disability.

Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said given the General Assembly’s “clear commitment” to passing a charter school law, the Prichard Committee supports local districts as the primary authorizer or approver of charter schools. That is the position of Fayette County Public School board members as well.

Kentucky would become the 44th state to allow public charter schools if the General Assembly approves them.

The chances of charter school legislation being approved by the General Assembly had appeared to improve significantly when Republicans took control of the state House of Representatives following elections in 2016. In the past, charter schools bills failed in the Democratic-run House. The state Senate is controlled by Republicans.

Allowing charter schools in Kentucky has been a priority of the Republican governor.

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