Mayors who would approve charter schools want more review of bill

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, left, and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, right, posed with Chris Johnson, middle, of Leadership Louisville.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, left, and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, right, posed with Chris Johnson, middle, of Leadership Louisville. 2011 file photo.

Is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray willing to approve and oversee charter schools along with Fayette County Public Schools board members?

Under House Bill 520, which was approved on a fast track Friday by the state House of Representatives, the mayors of Lexington and Louisville along with local school boards would “authorize” or approve charter school applications from non-profit and and for-profit organizations.

Susan Straub, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said in a weekend statement that “we’re evaluating the legislation, and the mayor certainly would want to talk with Superintendent (Manny) Caulk before taking a stand.”

“In Lexington, Fayette County Public Schools and the city work together … we all want the best education for our children,” Straub said.

In a video Facebook post Sunday night, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said there were “strong charter school models that include mayors as authorizers.”

He said charter schools could help children who need the most support, but that HB 520 was moving too fast and had problems that had to be addressed.

Fischer said one concern was that those approving and authorizing charter schools should be getting adequate funding to carry out their duties without negatively impacting existing public schools.

Fischer said the legislation would allow teachers who don’t have state certification. State Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, has raised the same issue. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville, said Friday that he will make sure the bill requires state certification for teachers. Fischer said he thinks the bill would allow corporations to profit “from our tax dollars and our children through for-profit schools.”

Fischer urged lawmakers to “slow down” with HB 520 and with House Bill 151, which would allow Kentucky students to go to the school closest to their home.

Nationally, there are other cities where mayor’s offices approve and oversee charter schools.

The Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation is responsible for the authorization and oversight of 35 mayor-sponsored charter schools on 40 campuses, its website said.

Caulk, in a statement on Sunday night, said Lexington-Fayette government officials were among those that he wanted to talk to before commenting on HB 520. As of Monday afternoon, the bill still must be approved by the state Senate.

“There are many exciting provisions in HB 520, but there are also unanswered questions,” Caulk said. “We need time to discuss the potential impact of this legislation with our employees, families and community partners, including business leaders, faith-based organizations, non-profit agencies and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, before commenting.”

Under the bill, which calls for 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. Although profit and non-profit groups could organize charter schools, the organizer would have to be nonsectarian. 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.

Denials of applications could be appealed to the Kentucky Board of Education.

Lawmakers on Friday who opposed the bill questioned language that they thought indicated that school boards and mayors had to approve any charter school whose application was in order.

Senate Education Committee chair Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, did not say Sunday when that committee will take up the charter school legislation.

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