Charter Pulse

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Bill puts charter schools back in spotlight in KENTUCKY

Shelbyville Republican hopes latest plan soothes critics on accountability, funding, harm to public districts

focus-on-charter-schoolsThe controversial charter school discussion has boomeranged back to center stage in Kentucky.

The state’s Republicans have once again revived plans to introduce charter schools to the Bluegrass State. State Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, said Friday he plans to prefile his latest bill in the next few weeks to be taken up in the next legislative session.

Kentucky is one of eight states that do not allow charter schools – schools that are publicly funded but privately run. Ohio and Indiana have had them for years. Multiple prior attempts to introduce them in Kentucky have failed.

Proponents of the idea say charter schools can produce innovation and flexibility that traditional schools don’t. They say charter schools could catch the students who are falling through the cracks, mainly poor minority kids.

Opponents, however, say charter schools would take away resources from already struggling traditional public schools. They also cite concerns about academic performance, accountability and oversight in states that allow charter schools.

It’s unclear how the law would work. Some of Montell’s prior proposals would have allowed charters to open only in the state’s lowest-performing school districts. That’s how it works in Ohio. Most of the three dozen charters in Southwest Ohio are within the Cincinnati Public Schools district. Of the 21 low-performing or “priority” districts in Kentucky, two are local – Dayton and Newport.

Dayton Superintendent Jay Brewer said he would need more details about the proposal, particularly how it would affect funding for traditional districts. His district of 840, where nearly 80 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, is already financially strapped.

“I’m not opposed to the idea of competition, but what about the funding?” he said.

Charter schools’ records vary widely state by state

Charter schools are free from many of the rules and restrictions that apply to traditional schools. The idea is for them to serve as academic laboratories, introducing innovative educational models. Many are high performing, with waiting lists and impressive records of helping poor, minority or otherwise underserved students.

However, records are spotty throughout the country and often vary state by state. There are some excellent charter schools in Ohio, but as a whole Ohio’s charters are criticized for lackluster performance and lax accountability. Some of Ohio’s charter schools have also been riddled with financial problems and administrative scandals. Critics also say the system, which allows for-profit companies to manage the schools, creates a layer of secrecy about how the public’s tax dollars are being spent.

In Kentucky, the charter effort has been quashed several times before, generally failing along party lines (Republicans support, Democrats oppose).

The Kentucky Charter Schools Association, which formed to bring charters to the state, held a roundtable discussion Aug. 22 in Louisville.

Both of Kentucky’s U.S. senators, Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, voiced their support of the idea, as did the Bluegrass Institute, a Lexington-based think tank.

“The problem in Kentucky is we see continuing evidence of disparate performance for our racial minorities, especially African-Americans,” said Richard Innes, education analyst for the Bluegrass Institute. “Blacks aren’t being properly served or identified right now. That’s a huge problem. The regular school system is failing them.”

The biggest opposition at last week’s discussion came from Kentucky’s teachers unions, specifically the Jefferson County Teachers Association. Jefferson County Schools in Louisville would likely be ground zero for charter school startups in Kentucky.

Charter school teachers generally aren’t unionized, but that’s not why he opposes them, said Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. “The objection I have is based on kids,” he said.

“In general, there’s little evidence charters perform any better than existing (public) schools,” he said. He also said charter schools often don’t have the same licensing requirements for teachers; have high staff turnover rates; and that the private companies that run them are often about “profiteering.”

Labor unions can be a powerful force in Kentucky. The Kentucky Education Association has around 35,000 members.

“They put up lots of money in some of the races,” said Innes. “They can make it difficult to win re-election.”

It can also swing the other way. In Ohio, David Brennan, a big Republican contributor who owns the state’s largest charter school operator, White Hat Management, has been accused of trying to sway legislation to make it favorable to his schools.

Montell brushed aside questions about whether that could happen with his bill.

“Everything is not driven by the carrot of a campaign contribution,” he said. “I’m not naive enough to think things aren’t ever going to be influenced, (but) at the end of the day, legislators have to be educated enough on the issues to make good decisions for the children.”

“We need to stop seeing it as competition against public schools,” he said. “Charter schools fill the gaps.”

He’s hopeful his bill addresses critics’ concerns.

McKim doubts it. “I do not expect it to pass in the upcoming legislation session,” he said.

Source: nky.com – Jessica Brown

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This entry was posted on September 3, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Kentucky, Reform.

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