Ky. Senate gives final passage to statewide charter school bill

House Bill 9 now heads to Gov. Andy Beshear's desk.
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 12:01 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - House Bill 9, a widely-debated bill providing public funding for charter schools, received final passage from the Kentucky State Senate Tuesday afternoon.

The bill would use taxpayer dollars to provide funding for charter schools across the state, using parts of the state as pilot programs for the operation.

The schools would be funded on a “proportionate per pupil basis,” meaning the amount of funds would be multiplied by a fraction, with the numerator being the average daily attendance of the public charter school, and the denominator being the average daily attendance of the school district of location.

The charter schools themselves “shall be part of the state’s system of public education but shall be exempt from all statutes and administrative regulations applicable to the state board, a local school district, or a school, except the public charter school shall adhere to the same health, safety, civil rights, and disability rights requirements as are applied to all public schools and to all requirements otherwise identified in KRS 160.1590 to 160.1599 and 161.141.”

The president of the Jefferson County Teachers’ Association believes the bill is directed at Jefferson County Public Schools.

“It’s like the wild, wild west,” McKim said. “And if you put your kid in one of those charter schools, you cannot count on the principal having ever even been a teacher, or having any kind of degree. You can’t count on the counselor having any of the qualification to be a counselor. If there’s a mental health practitioner, you can’t count on that. It is so unregulated that anything goes other than those four limited areas that are covered in the bill.”

McKim believes HB9 would slowly suck JCPS dry of funding, while handing the money to the district’s direct competition.

“I think when it comes right down to it, there is study after study,” McKim said. “Some say charters do a little better, some say they do a little worse. In the end, there really isn’t much statistical difference [between charter school and public school performance]. And so it begs the questions, why would we create a whole new bureaucracy, siphon off the funds from the existing public schools, just to create a redundant school system that’s not very accountable to the citizens?”

To McKim’s point, a 2017 article from Harvard University states 200 charter schools close per year in the United States.

On the other hand, a US News & World Report ranking of the top 100 high schools in the country shows 24 of them are charter schools.

“Some of them are going to struggle and some of them are going to be very, very successful,” WKU Professor of Education Administration Gary Houchens said. “The difference is if it’s not serving its students, then either through the accountability structures that exist for charter schools, or for the ultimate accountability of parents walking away from that school, that low performing charter school can be shut down.”

Houchens is a supporter of the bill, and said charter schools can provide a more equitable education system for students statewide.

“Because they’re operated independently of the local school district, they tend to be much more innovative and flexible,” Houchens said. “They don’t have to go through nearly as many layers of bureaucracy to adopt new curriculum or to create more innovative teacher pay structures or to adopt alternate school schedules. And so it’s that autonomy that seems to make it possible for the schools to do more often with even less resources than the traditional public schools.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky responded to HB9′s passage with a statement that reads:

“The Kentucky General Assembly today granted final passage to House Bill 9 to funnel public dollars from public schools into unaccountable charter schools. HB9 would reduce public school funding, harm Kentucky students, and reduce transparency on how tax dollars are spent.

School vouchers directly harm students by diverting funding for education, opening the door for discrimination, and reducing transparency on how tax dollars are spent. Charter schools are not subject to the same open records laws that keep public institutions accountable to taxpayers. This also means tax dollars could be used to support private institutions that are not required to ensure all students have equal access regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or ability.

School vouchers also funnel public dollars into out of state corporations. Many charter schools are owned and operated by national corporations that view our children and our commonwealth as a source of revenue. HB9 is part of a national effort funded by dark money designed to weaken public education and enrich a few billionaires at the expense of our children.

Research shows legislation like this would benefit students from higher-income families and leave students from low-income families behind. Even worse, school vouchers like those implemented in Indiana have proven to increase racial and economic disparities.

House Bill 9 would allow charter schools in all counties and require them in some. This legislation expands on a 2021 bill that violates the Kentucky Constitution and is currently blocked in state court.

It is especially concerning that lawmakers proceeded to pass HB9 as Representative Kim Banta – one of the two votes that got HB9 through committee – faces credible ethics questions because she stands to profit from its passage.

Kentucky’s public schools need more support, not less. Our shared public dollars should support Kentucky’s public school students, not private institutions.

We strongly urge Governor Beshear to veto House Bill 9 to protect Kentucky students and maintain transparency in public spending.”

HB9 now moves to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk for a signature.

If Beshear vetoes the bill, lawmakers can override the veto if there is a constitutional majority in both the House and Senate.

To view a complete copy of HB9, click or tap here.

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