First charter school in Kentucky could be in place for start of 2018-19 school year

09/14/2017 03:46 PM

FRANKFORT – With the passage of House Bill 520 during the 2017 legislative session, Kentucky became the 44th state which legalized public charter schools, which proponents say will improve educational opportunities for many students, while critics believe the charters will draw money away from traditional public schools.

Last month, the Kentucky Department of Education named Earl Simms as director of its newly created Division of Charter Schools.

Simms, a native of Louisville and graduate of Murray State University, previously served as the St. Louis director of the Office of Charter Schools with the University of Missouri College of Education, the body which authorizes charter schools in the state of Missouri.

Simms notes there are several key differences between charter schools and traditional schools.

“What differ about a charter school is that it has its own local board, so it’s independent from the district, and that local board is free to make decisions pretty quickly for that student body and for that school that are more beneficial for that particular school,” Simms said. “A student who would be a candidate to go to a charter school would be one who has not done well in the traditional district setting.”

Simms says that there could be charter schools in the state beginning with the next school year but there is a fairly lengthy procedure to apply for one.

Per state statue, the Kentucky Department of Education must first adopt four different regulations, and those regulations are currently before the State Board of Education.

“They will have a second reading at the October meeting, so in November, they will probably go through the public comment period for a month, and hopefully be finalized by January,” Simms said. “Then by January, you’ll see the documents that are in the regulations come out around that time which would include the applications for a school to authorize for one to open.

“I think the earliest that you could see a charter open is in the Fall of 2018, going into the 2018-2019 school year.”

Simms believes that initially, the first place that you’ll see charter schools will be in the urban areas, like Louisville and Lexington.

“The most interest that we’ve seen as far as locating a charter school in the commonwealth so far has come from those larger areas, so, Jefferson County, a little bit of Fayette County and some in northern Kentucky.” Simms said. “Just gauging by some of the that’s come in, that’s where you’ll see them first.”

Simms said the student selection process is by application only, and if there are more applicants than places available, there will be a lottery.

“There’s no selective enrollment,” Simms said. “You can’t discriminate on enrollment by any means, so you can’t discriminate by disability in a charter school, by English language learner status, you can’t discriminate by previous test scores or previous disciplinary incidents when you enroll in a charter.”

Simms says that one advantage Kentucky has in being the 44th state to adopt charter schools, is the fact that he can look at other states and see charter schools which have been successful as well as the ones that have failed, is putting together Kentucky’s charter school initiative.

“What you see in charter schools which have failed in general across the county is that a lot of it happens with finance, that the financial prep running up to opening was not very solid,” Simms said. “The charter schools that have been successful have very strong opening applications, so they have that academic vision, they have a solid financial plan up front, and they have a solid plan also for just how the schools’ culture and organization is going to run and to fill out.”

Simms also hopes that there will be effective collaboration between newly formed charter schools and the public school districts.

“One of the things that we’re really looking for with the charter school sector is not to have a fight between the district schools and the charter schools, we’d really like to see collaboration and these schools work together to share best practices,” Simms said.

In Missouri, Simms monitored school compliance and the performance of 10 K-12 charter schools with a combined enrollment of 4,000 students.

Don Weber

Don Weber is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers politics and education on Pure Politics, Kentucky’s only nightly program dedicated to state politics. Don is a lifelong Kentuckian and a graduate of Northern Kentucky University. He spent many years covering sports in the Northern Kentucky area before shifting primarily to politics. You can watch Don’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. If you have a story idea you can reach Don at donald.weber@charter.com.

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