Legislation which would create charter schools in Fayette and Jefferson counties passes Senate committee

03/10/2016 05:56 PM

FRANKFORT – Once again this year, a bill which would authorize public charter schools primarily for free and reduced lunch students in Fayette and Jefferson counties was passed by the Senate Committee on Education Thursday.

Senate Bill 253, sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, would establish a 5-year charter school pilot project beginning with the 2017-18 academic year and continuing through the 2021-22 academic year, in the two counties and establish the Kentucky Charter School Commission which would oversee operation of the schools, which would have a number of regulations, currently required of Kentucky public schools, waived.

The project calls for no more than two charter schools to be established in any one academic year.

Wilson said that the biggest reason for the legislation is an attempt to decrease the widening achievement gap between high-performing and low-performing students, including students from low-income families and ones of color. The schools would be tuition free, he said.

Wilson pointed out to committee members that there will be two authorizers in place in establishing the charter schools in particular locations.

“Their application for a charter school must be approved and monitored by either the local school board or the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission that is appointed by the governor,” Wilson said. “To become a charter it must exhibit commitment to at-risk students, special need students, and students residing in attendance area that has at least 50 percent free and reduced lunch.”

Secretary of Education and Workforce Development Hal Heiner, says the time is now for the establishment of charter schools, in areas of the state’s most vulnerable population.

Heiner pointed to statistics which show that 20 percent of students in Jefferson County Public Schools will not graduate as a reason that charter schools need to be established in the area.

“The inequity in education is beginning to grow wider, and wider, and wider, and we need to intervene,” Heiner said. “We need to intervene as Democrats, we need to intervene as Republicans, we need to intervene as adults who care about children.”

University of Kentucky professor Dr. Wayne Lewis feels it’s time to do away with what appears to be not working and establish charter schools as a way to reach Kentucky’s most vulnerable students and give them a chance to succeed.

“I have never and never will have a blind allegiance to a system, public or private, that continues to under serve children,” Lewis said. “Our collective and continued failure to address the unwillingness, and, or, inability of Fayette and Jefferson counties to meet the needs of low income and children of color is nothing short of academic neglect.

Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler spoke in opposition of the legislation, saying that efforts need to go into relieving educators of burdensome regulations which many times hamper a teachers ability to effectively instruct students.

“To deregulate rules from federal and state regulations that bind and tie the hands of our teachers and administrators to do cool and innovative things that would help address the needs of our neediest students,” Winkler said. “There are so many components to what we need to improve our schools. It can’t be just about changing the name of the school, taking away all of the rules, and that’s the major fix to education.”

Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, who was one of three Democrats who voted against the legislation, feels that’s it’s unfair that all of the public schools in the state would be held to the regulations that the charter schools would be free from.

“If that’s good enough for charter schools, that should be good enough for public schools too,” Thomas said. “If we see this as a fix, then let’s apply these fixes to public schools. Let’s relieve our teachers of these burdens, of these over regulation of these requirements.”

Wilson says the bill could come to the Senate floor tomorrow, but isn’t optimistic that it will see life in the House.

“I don’t perceive that it’s going to pas because there’s a bill very, very similar to it that’s in the House that has not been called up for a hearing or a vote,” Wilson said.

The charter schools bill in the House is HB 589, sponsored by Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville.


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