Kentucky education commissioner says local, state school boards should have authority over charter schools

File photo of school classroom.
File photo of school classroom.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt says that if charter schools are inevitable for Kentucky, they should be public, authorized by local school boards and overseen by the state board of education.

Charter schools are relieved from certain state and local regulations in exchange for a higher level of accountability. Charter schools may provide programs not available in traditional public schools.

Gov. Matt Bevin has said he wants public charter schools in Kentucky.

Pruitt said he wants to make sure that Kentucky public school officials have a say in how the charter school legislation would be structured.

Pruitt, in an interview Wednesday, said he hasn’t talked to Bevin about the new governor’s vision for charter schools.

“We are looking forward to meeting with him and working with him to figure out a better way to educate our kids,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said Wednesday at the Kentucky Board of Education meeting that he won’t lead the charge for charter schools, but he thinks public charter schools overseen by the state school board would be preferable to private charter schools.

Pruitt said charter schools should have a contract. In exchange for flexibility, they would be held accountable for raising student achievement.

He said the Kentucky Board of Education would need to be willing to dismantle a charter school “if they are doing wrong by kids.”

Pruitt said charter schools “are not a panacea.”

The Kentucky School Boards Association News Service reported that earlier this week, Pruitt told an audience of nearly 150 people at the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents winter conference that he will oppose charter school legislation in the 2016 legislature if it takes funding away from traditional public schools.

“I will be against anything that takes public money away from our kids,” the commissioner said, according to the news service. “My job is to try to ensure that you guys have a stake in it as opposed to someone coming in from the outside who’s in it to make money.

“I’d rather be at the table than have it become a situation that just happens to us,” he was quoted as saying. The authority should remain with local superintendents and boards with state oversight.”

Other than a potential reduction in funding for public schools, Pruitt’s concerns about charter school legislation include ensuring that a charter’s student-selection process doesn’t produce a “segregated” enrollment, and the possible creation of a state government chartering commission, which could overturn a local school board’s decision on charter applications, the KSBA news service said.