With prominent charter school advocates now leading Kentucky’s public schools, a Lexington man is inviting parents to meetings to learn more about the topic.
“Our time is now to learn more about charter schools that are fast approaching in Kentucky,” Lexington resident James Clay Wagers said when he announced the first planned forum for Tuesday. “These open forums will focus on facts and research from both local and national studies. Guest speakers will be on hand from a wide variety of groups and experts” to study pros and cons, he said.
“Parents must have our voices heard,” said Wagers, a businessman.
After years of debate, the 2017 General Assembly passed a law that allowed charter schools for the first time in Kentucky. Charter schools are not close to opening, however, because advocates say the 2018 General Assembly slowed the movement by not approving a permanent funding mechanism for charter schools. No group has applied to a local school board to open one, according to Joel Adams, executive director of the Kentucky Public Charter Schools Association.
People in Louisville, Northern Kentucky and Richmond have told the Herald-Leader, however, that they have begun to organize their efforts and would like to apply to start a charter school if a permanent funding mechanism was established.
“I’ve certainly had lots of conversation that sound like there’s some potential progress,” Adams of the Kentucky Public Charter Schools Association said this week. “I really do expect something to happen in early 2019. ...I really don’t know exactly how its going to play out but we are still very hopeful, working toward this thing with all the optimism we can muster.”
Kentucky’s interim Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis has said he is looking for a path for charter schools to open, given the lack of a permanent funding mechanism. Lewis is a charter school proponent as is the new chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education, Hal Heiner. Both were appointees of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin who pushed to bring charter schools to Kentucky.
Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Jessica Fletcher recently said in an email that “there has been no movement on charter school funding. “
Still, there are signs that state officials are laying the ground work for charter schools.
Lewis has hired Deanna Durrett as General Counsel for the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education. Durrett, a native of Louisville, formerly served as the chief of staff for Success Academy Charter Schools in New York, a news release said.
Lewis at an August Kentucky Board of Education meeting told board members that the growth of a new public charter school sector was one of several priorities for him as was expanding the number and type of high-quality public school options available to Kentucky’s students. The state board gave permission in August for the Kentucky Department of Education to create a new charter school advisory council.
Wagers said the Lexington forums won’t take one side or the other in the charter school debate. He said speakers would likely include people from the Fayette school district, from the University of Kentucky, charter school leaders, parents and lawmakers.
The first forum is at the Copperfield Club House, 1336 Copper Run Boulevard, at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The forums will explore “pros and cons in both directions,” he said. Wagers said basic information such as the various types of charter schools would also be provided.
Wagers describes himself as an “outspoken advocate of public schools” but said he wants to know more about charters.
He said he has heard “ a few good stories about charter schools. The majority of stories are not so kind. “
“Why not learn more about our options moving forward ...as a parent, business person, we must weigh our options .... maybe charter schools have a place in Fayette County,” Wagers said.
Kindra Warren , whose children graduated from Fayette County Public Schools, said she will attend the forums.
Warren said she’s currently not in favor of charter schools. Like many opponents, she is concerned that charter schools will take resources away from traditional public schools. But she thinks the meetings will be good for Lexington because they will help people form an opinion.
“It may make some parents decide, ‘Oh yeah, I want to support charter schools so my children can go there,” Warren said.