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The Bottom Line: Charter schools legislation moves to the state Senate

By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line

Lane-KyChamber-piece-300x196A bill to bring public charter schools to Kentucky moved through the process Friday with passage through the House Education Committee and on the House floor.

The bill passed out of the House Friday afternoon with a 56-39 vote after many hours of discussion.

House Bill 520, sponsored by House Education Chair Bam Carney, would allow for public charter schools approved by the state to open in the 2018-19 school year.

Under this bill, charter schools would be allowed to open in any area of the state if they are approved. Local school boards will have the ability to review applications to open a charter school and the bill also sets up an appeals process for applications that goes to the Kentucky State Board of Education. A friendly amendment by Rep. Phil Moffett was adopted in committee that allows the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to also serve as authorizers in those cities.

The public charter schools will be open to all students in the area with preference given to students residing in the district, those who are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch, and students attending persistently low-achieving schools. If there are more applicants to the school than there are available slots, the bill sets up a process for a random lottery to decide enrollment. Hear more about the bill in an exclusive interview with Rep. Carney here.

Rep. Carney, a public school educator of 20 years, said the bill should be a bipartisan issue and focus on the children of the state. Carney added that 43 other states have some form of charter school and said he has worked to add the best practices to House Bill 520.

During testimony on the legislation in committee Friday morning, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said the time has come to put Kentucky’s students first and pass charter school legislation. The governor said any argument that charter schools are a threat to public education is a “scare tactic” and added that he feels the only threat charter schools pose is to current “failures” in Kentucky’s education system.

Bevin cited the $12,000 per student the state spends each year in Jefferson County schools and said the problem with Kentucky education is not funding but rather a lack of educational options.

“I am begging you, as governor of the Commonwealth, to pass this legislation,” Bevin said.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Adkisson also testified in favor of the bill, noting the support of charter schools from both Presidents Trump and Obama and said he was proud to lend the support of Kentucky’s business community to the issue as education continues to be the top strategic priority of the Chamber.

Reverend Milton Seymore, a member of the state school board, said some of Kentucky’s schools are 40-70 years behind and the school system needs the competition that charter schools could provide.

Kentucky Education and Workforce Secretary Hal Heiner also pointed to the high number of Kentucky students currently performing behind grade level, adding that charter schools can help bring them up to speed through specialization and other flexibility options that public charter schools could provide.

Julia Crigler of Americans for Prosperity of Kentucky said children in Kentucky need and deserve the best education possible and that public charter schools could provide the true school choice that can help students regardless of their family’s income or zip code.

“Greater Louisville Inc. applauds the Kentucky House of Representatives for passage of House Bill 520, which would enable public charter schools in Kentucky,” Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, COO of Greater Louisville Inc., said. “It is an important step forward to improve education throughout the Commonwealth. Public charter schools across the country have been shown to narrow the achievement gap in very meaningful ways. These schools will offer more choices for parents, thereby fostering education. While House Bill 520 increases parental choice, House Bill 151, the Neighborhood Schools bill, limits parental choice and has shown no evidence of addressing the achievement gap. It is for these reasons that GLI opposes HB 151 as currently written. In the final days of 2017’s regular legislative session, GLI urges the Kentucky General Assembly to focus on the full passage of HB 520.”

House Bill 520 now heads to the Senate where it will be heard in the Education Committee.

For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.