Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters talks charter school legislation, pension reform

04/04/2017 11:00 PM

Legislation authorizing public charter schools in Kentucky isn’t exactly how Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters envisioned, but he expects they will improve student achievement in a state where performance has lagged.

Waters said he would have liked to see additional charter school authorizers in the final version of House Bill 520 considering some school districts likely won’t approve charter applications.

For instance, the Elizabethtown Independent Schools Board of Education passed a resolution in December opposing charter schools, an action that Waters says demonstrates a need for additional points of contact for groups hoping to launch new institutions. He said he liked a proposal from Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, that would have granted authorization power to the Council on Postsecondary Education and universities with accredited education schools.

Under HB 520, charters that are rejected can appeal to the Kentucky Board of Education, and the mayors of Louisville and Lexington are among those who can approve applications.

“We at least got the door open for charter schools here, but we are going to be watching very closely to make sure that applicants do get a fair shot at creating charter schools, especially if they have a great plan,” Waters said in an interview with Pure Politics Tuesday (1:55 in the video below).

“You know, we want there to be a rigorous approach on this. We want there to be high standards. We want the application process to be very rigorous in terms of financing, in terms of curriculum, in terms of achievement.”

Watch the interview segment with Waters on charter schools here:

With the state facing some $38 billion in unfunded pension liabilities — a number that Gov. Matt Bevin says is closer to $82 billion — Waters says a number of reforms should be on the table when lawmakers convene for an expected special session later this year, saying he hopes to see a “vigorous” public debate on pensions.

One item Waters says is worth consideration: funding retroactive benefit enhancements.

“We need to make a concerted effort with pension reform to ensure that benefit enhancements are properly funded and that the actuarial cost of those benefits is considered before they approved and that we don’t increase those benefits in future years and apply them back to this year or previous years because every year those pension benefits are funded at a certain level,” he said (2:02 in the video below).

“And if you increase those benefits down the road and apply that retroactively, then you dry up your actuarial reserve system and you increase the cost of those benefits greatly compared to what they were originally supposed to cost, so we really have to get a hold of that.”

Bevin has said he plans to call lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special session to consider pension and tax reforms, something that Waters said could be a tall order if legislators hope to approve such changes in the minimal five days.

“Five days for a pension reform or especially a tax reform bill is really optimistic, I think,” Waters said (4:21 in the video). “I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but there needs to be a lot of work done ahead of time to make sure that you can hit the ground running because a special session costs taxpayers over $60,000 additional dollars a day, and that doesn’t include some of the other expenses, so I don’t think this Republican legislature wants to be owing the taxpayers a great deal of extra dollars.

“If we get into a two-week or three-week special session, that begins to be very costly.”

Watch the interview segment on pensions in the video below:


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