Charter schools bill clears Kentucky Senate committee
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill aimed at jump-starting the introduction of charter schools in Kentucky won approval from a Senate panel on Monday, putting it one vote away from clearing the Republican-led legislature.
The measure calls for initial charter school openings — one each in Louisville and northern Kentucky — and would set up a permanent funding stream for charters.
The proposal remained intact without changes in clearing the Senate Education Committee. If it passes the Senate with no changes, the bill would go to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who has vowed to veto it. By passing it this week, supporters could mount a veto override vote during the legislature’s wrap-up work in mid-April. Republicans have supermajorities in the House and Senate.
Another high-profile bill to tighten rules for public assistance programs in Kentucky was advanced by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Monday, setting up a full Senate vote. The panel made changes to the bill, meaning it would have to return to the House for further action.
Supporters offered assurances that Kentuckians in need would continue receiving their public aid under the bill. Opponents warned the bill’s new standards would take food and health care benefits away from thousands of deserving people, including children.
A handful of Senate committees met Monday, adding to the long lineup of bills awaiting floor action. The House and Senate reconvene Tuesday for the first of two scheduled work days this week before an extended break to give the governor time to decide whether to sign or veto bills sent to him.
The overriding issue awaiting action is on the state’s next two-year state budget. House and Senate leaders crafting a final product were scheduled to meet Tuesday. Another key pending issue revolves around legislation to revamp the state’s tax code.
On the hot-button issue of charter schools, the bill reviewed Monday continued to draw vigorous opposition from public education groups. Opponents said charter schools would divert funding from traditional public schools and raised questions about oversight of charters.
“Public school districts will be required to give local and state taxes to private charter management corporations who are only interested in one thing — and that’s profiting off the backs of our students in the commonwealth,” said Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell.
The bill’s backers said it would give parents more choices for their children’s schooling. Those benefiting from additional school choices would include students in predominantly Black neighborhoods in western Louisville, supporters said.
“Let’s be real about this thing,” pastor Jerry Stephenson said Monday in focusing on the education system in those neighborhoods. “Something is not working in the traditional public system.”
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.
Meanwhile, the public assistance bill winding through the legislature represents a long-running priority among Republican lawmakers to tighten rules for the aid.
State Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Eric Friedlander told the Senate panel that the additional paperwork requirements to administer the bill’s reporting and verification rules would “overwhelm our systems.” He warned in a recent letter to lawmakers that the result would be “major disruptions” for people seeking assistance.
House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade responded that changes made to the bill were meant to alleviate those concerns. Meade and House Speaker David Osborne are the bill’s lead sponsors.
“As we had listened to the cabinet and where they said they were going to need additional employees to do all these additional checks ... we’ve removed all of those additional checks,” Meade said.
The bill would add new rules for such benefits as food stamps and Medicaid for the poor, while standards for food stamp eligibility would be tightened. In some cases, “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients would be required to participate in 80 hours per month of “community engagement” activities, such as jobs or volunteering.