The Kentucky educational system faces serious challenges, including, but certainly not limited to, corruption, failing schools with low performance and serious academic-achievement gaps between children of upper and lower socioeconomic status.
Forums like the Bluegrass Institute's online project give citizens and policy makers important information about how public charter schools operate and are held accountable and offer a genuine debate concerning whether they should be an option for Kentucky parents.
Supplementing traditional schools with charter schools — as 42 other states and the District of Columbia already do — should be part of Kentucky's educational policy. Charter schools are public schools of choice. They are taxpayer-funded and are open to any student wishing to attend. House Bill 85 during this year's legislative session would have required charters to give the same standardized tests as traditional schools while prohibiting charters from cherry-picking students to, for instance, avoid accepting learning-disabled students.
But what separates charters is that they are exempt from much of the bureaucracy of public schools. In exchange for increased autonomy, they promise to perform at a higher level than their traditional counterparts.
Much of the institute's online debate focuses on whether they are meeting this promise of academic success.
For example, Marty Solomon, a retired University of Kentucky business and economics professor and charter-school opponent, claims that while "proponents like to call them public schools because they receive public funding by siphoning off money originally meant for public schools, charters really are private schools that are run by private individuals or private corporations."
But UK education professor Wayne Lewis, chairman of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association board, countered: "Would Dr. Solomon suggest that charter schools have somehow just fooled state legislatures into allocating public school funding to private schools? Such an assertion would be ridiculous and I will no longer entertain the question of whether charter schools are public schools."
Both pointed to studies to support their views. The debate also does not shy away from scandals that have occurred since charters first appeared more than two decades ago. Still, I find the arguments of school-choice detractors mediocre, at best.
Yes, there have been some problems with charter schools in other states, but Solomon ignores the great successes achieved — especially with some of the most at-risk students. Kentucky could benefit from the experiences of other states, adopting what has worked while avoiding pitfalls.
Having graduated a few years ago from a Kentucky school outside of urban areas, I know firsthand that the cookie-cutter approach offered by traditional public schools doesn't work for many students.
For instance, while learning a foreign language can be a huge asset in this era of mass globalization, the district I graduated from has cut classes in three foreign languages to now only one.
My knowledge of French has been a huge asset to me, and I am disappointed that bureaucrats have deprived students — including my siblings — of the opportunity to widen their opportunities. A charter school could cater to the desires of parents and students by offering a multitude of foreign languages.
Charter schools have proven their effectiveness in meeting the needs of students from different backgrounds in 42 other states.
Why shouldn't Kentucky families also be allowed access to the flexibility, innovation and, yes, success they provide?
Read the Bluegrass Institute debate at http://www.bipps.org/lewis-vs-solomon-kentucky-need-charter-schools/.