Where’s the ambition for education?

We hate to think that, when it comes to P-12 education, the best that can be hoped for from this General Assembly is “it could have been worse.”

But that’s how things are shaping up.

Lawmakers are dismantling some of the landmark bans on nepotism that relieved the stranglehold that patronage politics once had on many public schools.

House Education Chairman John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, is sponsoring a tax credit for donors to private-school scholarships that the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy estimates could cost state coffers $76 million a year. That’s about what the state spends on Family Resource and Youth Services Centers.

The omnibus education bill, Senate Bill 1, which cleared the Senate unanimously and awaits House action, is uninspiring but does nowhere near the harm of last year’s version which died in the then-Democratic House. (SB 1 could have been worse, in other words.)

Likewise, the compromise charter-school bill wisely gives local school boards exclusive power to authorize charter schools if, as expected, the legislature’s new Republican majority makes Kentucky the 44th state to approve them. Some Republicans, including Gov. Matt Bevin, wanted multiple avenues for authorizing charter schools. House Bill 520, also sponsored by Carney, does empower the state school board to overrule local rejections of charter-school applications.

Lawmakers should strengthen the charter-school bill by:

▪ Eliminating virtual charter schools, which overwhelmingly fail to educate students.

▪ Requiring charters to provide free and reduced-price meals to eligible students; otherwise low-income kids are effectively excluded, defeating the goal of reducing achievement gaps.

▪ Making clear the grounds and process for closing charters.

Among other things, SB 1 makes the state wait two years before moving into low-performing schools or districts that are identified as needing intervention and abandons an ambitious teacher-evaluation program in which the state had invested a lot of money and effort.

It also sets out a staggered schedule for revising academic standards, which the Department of Education already does, and creates a panel to ensure ample public input. (This provision is touted as “repeal” of the Common Core standards, which Kentucky was the first to adopt, thanks to SB 1 in 2009.)

Lawmakers should infuse some aspiration into SB 1. Kentucky has moved from the bottom of national education rankings to the middle since 1990. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is urging the House to set “an ambitious goal” to guide Kentucky to “the top tier of all states in this generation.”

Relentlessly striving to hit that goal would be as good as it gets.