New charter-school bill steals from Ky. public schools in many ways

Marty Solomon
Marty Solomon

House Bill 520 is the latest version of charter school legislation that is bad for Kentucky. The worst aspect is that it would require public school monies to be handed over to charter schools.

For example, if a charter were created in Fayette County with 400 students, the Fayette County public schools would be required to cut its budget by $5.2 million and hand it over to the charter each year, possibly requiring 100 teachers to be laid off.

Under HB 520, a charter school could be created in three different ways: a local public school board could authorize it; if an application were rejected, the state board of education could authorize it; and if 60 percent of the parents of a public school voted to convert it to a charter school.

In this last case, the charter school would continue to be housed in the same public school facility and have the option of using the existing assets of the school.

The proposed legislation makes all employees and teachers of charters eligible for Kentucky state retirement in a system that is already $8 billion underfunded. And they would also be eligible for health and life insurance.

Incredibly, HB 520 would require public schools to transport charter-school students to their schools at the expense of public schools. And more incredibly, it allows charter schools to fine public schools.

Charter school students would be allowed to engage in public school extracurricular activities, even if the public school cannot afford more students to participate. And charter students would be allowed to compete in statewide athletic activities. Just think of a charter school that could recruit the very best high-school athletes from anywhere in the state to create a powerhouse championship team.

HB 520 would allow charter schools to be exempt from zoning and land-use regulations. So, a charter might be able to build an apartment house or bar adjacent to the school, regardless of zoning laws.

The burdens placed on public schools by HB 520 are awesome. For example, If a public school teacher decides to teach in a charter school, the public school would be required to offer a two-year leave of absence. This means that the public school would need to fill that teacher’s position but then two years later might be required to fire the teacher who was then in that position.

In addition, after a charter applicant submits an application, the school board must complete a thorough review process, conduct an in-person interview with the applicant, provide a public forum for local residents’ input, provide a detailed analysis of the application, allow an applicant a reasonable time to provide additional amendments to its application and then approve or deny the application.

But if a school board rejects an application for a charter, the paperwork and bureaucracy required is enormous. If the applicant completes the paperwork required, the local school board must almost automatically accept the application.

If not, the arduous procedure in rejection requires massive paperwork, appeals to the board of education, extensive documentation as to the reasons for the rejection, re-appeals to the board of education then more documentation and finally a decision by the state board.

This legislation could result in fierce court battles costing public-school districts huge amounts in legal fees.

The bottom line is that none of this is necessary to improve K-12 education in Kentucky.

Charter schools offer two things: choice and innovation. But both are now available to public schools through the relatively new legislation called Districts of Innovation. To see how it is already working go to: ket.org/episode/KEDMA_000802/

Marty Solomon, a retired University of Kentucky professor, can be reached at mbsolomon@aol.com.