Education chief pledges to ask for ‘funding mechanism’ for charter schools

Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said Friday that he will ask the 2019 General Assembly to create a funding mechanism or process for charter schools, but that doesn’t mean that he is asking for extra money.

“It’s simply a mechanism that shows how dollars — already appropriated public schools dollars — would follow a kid to a public charter school if their parents decide to enroll them in a public charter school,” he said.

At a meeting in Frankfort of the newly configured Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council, Lewis said he would advocate for anything else the state could do to raise achievement and close achievement gaps.

“It’s my job as Commissioner of Education to do everything that I can to move achievement ... to close achievement gaps ... and high quality public charter schools are one of the tools ... particularly with low income kids, kids of color, that’s what the research shows us.”

The General Assembly passed a law in 2017 to allow public charter schools in Kentucky for the first time. But none have opened.

Those who want to open charters in Northern Kentucky, Louisville and Richmond have said they are hesitant to file applications with their local school board as the law requires because there’s no current funding process for dollars to flow into charter schools, in state law.

If a funding mechanism is passed by the General Assembly, but no Kentucky parents decide to enroll their children in a charter school, the school will not get funding, Lewis said. If such legislation were passed, and potential charter school operators began filing applications, it could be more than a year before the first charter school opens in Kentucky.

“Most operators want a year or so of planning before they open,” Lewis said.

The Charter Schools Advisory Council is, under state law, reviewing charter school regulations and will make recommendations about them to the Kentucky Board of Education. The group will meet again in January.

Opponents say they are concerned that charter schools will take money away from traditional public schools. Gay Adelmann of Louisville, a member of a group called Save Our Schools Kentucky that is opposed to charter schools, said after watching the charter schools advisory council meeting that she will ask lawmakers not to pass a funding mechanism.

“As taxpayers,” she said, “we want strong community schools and we want well-funded schools. I want my tax dollars to stay in my local public schools,”

The conversation about charter schools has been ramping up in Lexington. Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, said her group hosted a screening of a documentary about charter schools Thursday night called, ‘Backpack full of Cash’ to give the public an opportunity to learn about the traditional public school versus charter school debate.

“We believe that public schools are the best opportunities for student success. We must encourage our legislators to invest in our public schools, instead of diverting funds to charters,” Hiler said..