Charter school bill wins passage in Kentucky House
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — After years of inaction, charter schools would gain a foothold in Kentucky and be supplied with a permanent funding stream under a bill that won passage Tuesday in the state House.
The bill calling for initial charter school openings cleared the House on a 51-46 vote after a nearly three-hour debate, on the same day the measure barely emerged from a House committee.
Twenty-two Republican lawmakers aligned with Democrats to oppose the proposal, but the measure mustered enough House support to advance to the Senate. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers. Only a handful of days are left to pass the bill in time to ensure lawmakers could take up a promised veto by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
The bill had a bumpy journey through the House, reflecting the hot-button status of charter schools in the Bluegrass State. The measure was removed from one House committee and reassigned to the Education Committee, which underwent a couple of last-minute membership changes before the crucial vote that helped push the bill through committee.
Opponents put up a spirited fight in the full House. During the long debate, Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton said: “You can cut the tension in this room with a knife today.”
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Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature authorized charter schools in 2017 but none have been created because lawmakers did not provide a permanent funding mechanism.
The new measure would set up a long-term funding method for charter schools. Public charters, like traditional public schools, would receive a mix of local and state tax support.
Charter school opponents said charters would divert badly needed funding from traditional public schools.
“In my opinion, House Bill 9 is a vote against public education,” said Republican Rep. Timmy Truett.
Supporters portrayed it as a way to give parents more choices for their children’s schooling.
“This is another option for our public schools to give parents a choice, to send their kids somewhere that the parent thinks is a better option for their child,” said Republican Rep. Chad McCoy.
Another key feature of the measure would require at least two charter schools be created under pilot projects — one in Louisville and one in northern Kentucky.
“My hope is, if we run a pilot project ... that will show the rest of the state there’s nothing to be afraid of,” McCoy, the bill’s lead sponsor, said during the committee hearing.
“These things are going on all over the country,” McCoy added. “And they’re not going to hurt public schools. Ninety percent of the kids still go to traditional public schools.”
The “guardrails” included in the 2017 law to oversee charter schools would remain intact, he said.
The measure has drawn strong pushback from many in public education. Opponents on Tuesday raised concerns about the oversight and funding of charter schools. Focusing on the financing mechanism, GOP Rep. Steve Riley said the bill is likely to face a legal challenge if it becomes law.
“I really don’t want us to go through lawsuits again,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner criticized the maneuvering ahead of the vote — reassigning the bill to another committee and changing the panel’s membership.
“Some bills are meant to not pass out of committee because they’re not ready yet,” she said. “And for the gamesmanship that has gone on to get a ‘yes’ vote and to get this out of committee, this is not good democratic process, this is not good governance, this is not transparency.”
Meanwhile, the House passed another education bill that would shift key school governance decisions to superintendents and away from school-based decision-making councils.
The legislation would give superintendents more authority to choose curriculum. Also, the selection of school principals would ultimately be put in the hands of superintendents.
Supporters say that assigning curriculum and principal hiring decisions to superintendents would strengthen public accountability for key decisions that determine school and student success. Those superintendents are hired and fired by locally elected school boards.
School-based decision-making councils were created by the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. The councils include parent and teacher members.
The bill, which cleared the House 67-29, returns to the Senate, which will consider the House’s changes to the measure. Those changes included inserting into it the contents of another hotly debated bill aimed at incorporating a series of historical documents and speeches into the classroom work of Kentucky students — a response to the national debate over critical race theory.