Are Kentucky’s proposed charter school rules tough enough?

The Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council created by Gov. Matt Bevin met July 24 to review proposed charter school regulations.
The Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council created by Gov. Matt Bevin met July 24 to review proposed charter school regulations.

A local school board could move to revoke a charter school contract, take over operation or determine a timetable for closing the charter school if it is financially insolvent or has threatened the health and safety of students, according to proposed regulations.

Pages of proposed regulations for charter schools in Kentucky have been made public in the past few weeks. Charter schools were approved in Kentucky for the first time by the 2017 General Assembly. The Kentucky Board of Education decided Wednesday to meet later this month to give the regulations a first reading. Final approval, expected by January, will have to occur before anyone can apply to open a charter school in Kentucky.

Under the proposed regulations, there would be targets for a charter school’s performance, including test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates, promotion rates and other outcomes. The regulations call for a progressive system of consequences for poorly performing charter schools before revoking or not renewing a charter contract.

Applications from people who want to start a charter school would have to include information on the performance, finances and any closings of the charter schools they operate.

The new state charter school law calls for local school boards and the mayors of Lexington and Louisville to approve and monitor the schools, which would operate under a charter or contract. The schools will be given the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving student achievement.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said he has shared the proposed regulations with Earl Simms, the newly hired state charter school division director, who starts work Aug. 16. Pruitt said Simms, who oversaw charter schools in Missouri, takes the position on charter schools that “you get the flexibility, but you better perform.”

An executive order from Gov. Matt Bevin is being challenged in court by Attorney General Andy Beshear and a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 9, but the Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council, which the governor created in that executive order, held its first meeting in July and made recommendations on the regulations to the state school board.

The charter advisory council appointed by Bevin asked whether there was enough guidance in the regulations on how applications for single-sex charter schools would be handled to avoid any unlawful discrimination.

Council members expressed concern whether school board members will be trained in time to monitor charter schools. Because a number of local boards already have voiced their opposition to charter schools, advisory council members said it is important that local boards not delay the consideration of charter applications.

Council members also said greater clarity is needed about what happens to charter school property and students if a charter is revoked during the school year.

The soonest that charter schools could open would be the 2018-19 school year, state Department of Education general counsel Kevin Brown has said.

Kentucky Department of Education budget director Charlie Harman suggested Thursday at the state Board of Education meeting that if a charter school were to open in Fayette County, for example, a percentage of charter school students could come from existing public schools and a fraction from existing private schools and home schools. Charter schools must be nonsectarian under the state law.

There was a discussion Thursday about what charter schools could cost the state. In addition to the $400,000 in annual costs for operating the state charter school division, budget staffers said they had only a preliminary guess on the costs to support students attending a charter school, because no one knows yet how many charter schools will open. State board members said the students in charter schools wouldn’t cost the state extra money because state and federal funding for charter schools would be allotted the same as in a traditional public school, based primarily on the number of students.

Unlike magnet schools, charter schools generally would have to be open to all students.

A second reading by the state board in October, a public hearing, and recommendations from other panels will occur before the regulations go into effect.

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