Charter schools again a focus in 2015, Senate Education Committee chair says

12/17/2014 04:17 PM

The push for charter schools will again be before the legislature come 2015, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee said Tuesday.

With only 30 days for legislators to complete their work and several of those days reserved for organizational meetings, Sen. Mike Wilson, a Bowling Green Republican and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said one of the top issues for the committee will be a perennial bill to start five charter schools in the state.

As GOP members of the committee seek to change the structure of education in Kentucky, Wilson said it will take a continued push to educate fellow lawmakers on the issue of charter schools before the concept is accepted.

“We continually try to educate people that this is not a Democrat or a Republican issue, it is an issue about making sure that our kids are getting the level of education they deserve, and the issue is the problems we have with the achievement gap,” Wilson said, referencing the disparity that exists between Caucasian and African-American students in test scores.

Wilson said the specifics of this year’s bill are still coming together, but the idea is to prove or disprove the concept with a pilot project allowing five public-charter schools in the state.

“We’re not trying to do a statewide thing on this — we’re trying to do a pilot program to try it and let’s see it. Let’s give it the best chance of survival and being successful and let’s see how it works,” Wilson said. “If it does then you continue to expand it, and if it doesn’t then in five years you revoke the charter.”

The outcomes in the proposed charter schools will have to be an improvement or else the schools will return to the public-school format, Wilson said.

“In exchange for the independence that they have from a lot of the restrictions public schools are under the outcomes that are expected from them — that’s what they have to prove,” Wilson said.

The main opposition to the bill in Kentucky has historically been in the form teachers and teachers’ unions.

The arguments against charters are varied, but unions traditionally assert that charter schools can “skim” high-performing students from traditional public schools — thus boosting their performance results.

And the model for some charter schools allow a business-backed, for-profit-based school, which unions say is the privatization of publicly funded schools.

Wilson acknowledged that teachers and teachers’ unions have been a stumbling block in the past, but he said once in the classroom, teachers will see the benefits of a charter program.

“I think you find once a teacher has really been in a charter school, they really like it,” Wilson said.


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