Charter schools a complement, not a replacement, for Ky. public schools

Rep. John “Bam” Carney
Rep. John “Bam” Carney

As a public school teacher, I believe in the power of public education. Kentucky has a lot to be proud of when it comes to our schools — we have a strong high school graduation rate and some of our top performing schools could match up with top performing schools anywhere in the country.

My children attended traditional public schools and received a fine education. I believe that traditional public schools will continue to educate the vast majority of our students in Kentucky.

As the chairman of the House Education Committee and sponsor of House Bill 520, I also believe that some children simply need another public school option. Just as my own two sons learn differently and needed different types of schools, children across Kentucky have different needs and we, as lawmakers, must be open-minded to new ways to meet those needs.

That’s why I have decided to sponsor a bill to allow public charter schools to open in Kentucky. One size doesn’t fit all and now, more than ever, we have to make sure that we are investing in ideas that have a proven track record of success. Public charter schools do.

As many of us know, a great education is a game-changer. We have seen time and time again how those of limited means have used a college education as a way up and out of poverty. They have gone on to use their knowledge and determination to bring honor to our state and to drive its success.

But those opportunities shouldn’t be available to only certain children — either those who are lucky enough to win scholarships to private schools, those who happen to live in a great school district, or those in Louisville who get assigned to a good school purely by luck of the draw. Every child should have access to a great school no matter what.

We need only look to our neighbors to see how charter schools have been effective. Indiana and Tennessee have embraced public charter schools, offering many students who have been stuck in underperforming schools a lifeline.

Researchers at Stanford University found in a 2012 study that a typical student in an Indiana charter school gained more learning in a year than his or her district school peer. Those gains included a staggering month and a half of additional learning in reading and in math. In Indianapolis, the study found that a charter education equaled two months of additional learning in reading and nearly three months more in math.

In Tennessee, the results were similar. Students who attended public charter schools in 2013 got an additional 86 days of instruction in reading and 72 more days in math than their traditional school counterparts.

These kinds of results produce students who are ready for college and ready for the world. Maybe that’s why studies show that charter school students are more likely to go to and stay in college. And when they get out of school, they earn more.

Some people have asked why we don’t just focus on improving our existing public schools. My answer is that we can and should do both. We can continue to demand excellence from our existing schools while also giving children who need options today access to a school that can prepare them for the future.

The bill that is under consideration this year gives local school boards a say in what kinds of charter schools can open in their communities. This will ensure that new schools are meeting community needs.

This is the way things are done in Colorado, and they have some of the country’s best and most innovative public charter schools. Including a school called the Denver School of Science and Technology where almost all of the students are low-income, but boast some of the highest math and science scores in the state. I want these kinds of results for Kentucky’s students.

Being for change and innovation doesn’t mean being against good things that are already working in public charter schools. Public charter schools will be a complement to not a replacement for Kentucky’s existing public schools. They will just be one more way that we can ensure that Kentucky students are prepared for a shot at the American Dream.

Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, is head of the House Education Committee and sponsor of House Bill 520 charter school legislation.