Charter school bill’s fate uncertain in Kentucky Senate

State Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.
State Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green. Bud Kraft, Legislative Research Commission.

State Sen. Mike Wilson, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, told the Herald-Leader Tuesday that a bill to allow charter schools in Kentucky was not on the agenda for his committee’s Thursday meeting.

“That could change,” said Wilson, R-Bowling Green. “I’m not sure yet.”

House Bill 520 would allow local school boards and the mayors of Lexington and Louisville to “authorize” — approve and oversee — an unlimited number of charter schools in Kentucky. It was approved by the full House of Representatives Friday 56-39 after hours of emotional debate.

The presumed next step is for the bill to be heard by the Senate Education Committee.

Wilson said he did not know when the committee would hear the bill, sponsored by state Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville, chairman of the House Education Committee.

“We don’t know yet. We’re still reviewing it,” Wilson said. “We just sent out a summary to all members.”

Wilson said he would have to talk to all the members about “where they stand on the bill.”

Does Wilson have concerns about HB 520, which was opposed on several counts Monday night by the Kentucky School Boards Association?

Wilson did not say.

“We are just going to have to get it out to the members (of the Senate Education Committee) right now to see where they might have concerns about it,” he said.

Supporters of the bill include Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. Supporters say it will help close the achievement gap prevalent among children of color, low income, and disabled children. Supporters also say it gives public school children choice now only available to students whose parents can afford private schools.

In public charter schools, an organizer who is non-sectarian 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 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 charter schools by local school boards could be appealed to the Kentucky Board of Education.

On Monday night, the Kentucky School Boards Association issued a statement that said it opposed the current language of HB 520 as passed by the House of Representatives.

“Going beyond simply an appeals process relating to the approval or denial of a charter application, HB 520 creates an onerous appeals process for every single charter-related action by a local board,” the statement said.

The school boards association statement said it opposes mayors as authorizers of charter schools, allowing them to approve and oversee them.

The group supports local school boards serving as the sole authorizers, with an appeal process for the approval or denial of a charter application. The association is concerned that the mayors of Lexington, Louisville and approximately 80 small cities in Jefferson County could oversee charter school operations and accountability, its statement said.

“This is a substantial concern for student success, if those in charge have no experience in education,” the statement said. “Absolutely no robust public dialogue has taken place throughout this session on the concept of mayors serving as authorizers.”

Other concerns from the association include that at this point, the bill “is not specific on where any funding to support charter schools will come from.”

The group has not opposed exploring the concept of charter schools in Kentucky.

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