Stymied Kentucky Charter School Advocates Pledge New Bill in 2012

Published March 25, 2011

The third legislative attempt to bring charter schools to Kentucky in three years has foundered as the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives refused to hear House Bill 103 during the current session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

The bill by Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) proposed a five-year pilot program and capped the number of charter schools at 20.

A bill giving local school boards complete control of the charter authorizing process passed the Senate during the first week of this year’s legislative session. However, House leaders deemed Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Senate President and gubernatorial candidate David Williams (R-Burkesville), “dead on arrival.”

More Authorizers Sought
Leading charter advocates say they prefer Montell’s bill because it allows more authorizers and gives charter schools needed autonomy.

“Someone may apply for a charter, it is denied by the local board, then it is appealed to at the Department of Education and they prolong and prolong and prolong the process,” wrote Charity Edmonston, president of Parents for Improving Kentucky Education (PIKE), on the Jefferson Review, a libertarian Web site covering Bluegrass State issues. “Local boards cannot be the only authorizers of a charter; … they will simply fail.”

Senate leaders, however, argued restricting authorizing decisions to local school boards would allay rural lawmakers’ fears about outside authorizers diminishing local leaders’ ability to make critical decisions.

Misunderstanding Noted
All of this shows the continuing communication challenge about charter schools in the commonwealth, said Montell, who plans to introduce similar legislation in 2012.

“I’ve heard [rural legislators say] ‘How would you like a charter school in your community? It may be good for the inner cities but not for our small communities,” Montell said. “Such a response gets back to a lack of understanding of how charter schools operate—that they are market-driven and if a community does not want that charter school, or there’s no support for it, there’s not going to be one there.”

Pastor Jerry Stephenson, coordinator of the Kentucky chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said a productive educational effort during the months after the current legislative session ends will be critical to success in next year’s General Assembly.

“We’re going to be educating the general public a great deal, and particularly the African-American families, on what impact this system is having on low-income and minority children,” Stephenson said. “That’s where we’ve got to put our energy.”

‘Look for Opportunities’
Kentucky remains one of only 11 states without a charter school law. Stephenson cites important gains made over the past year, including hearings by the bipartisan Interim Joint Committee on Education in August followed by the senate’s vote to pass SB 3 in early January.

Between sessions, “we have to look for opportunities to get our legislators to understand that we’re not here to kill public education but we’re here to enhance it, and that public charter schools will enhance the results in the total public education system,” Stephenson said.

Jim Waters ([email protected]) is vice president of policy and communications at the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Bowling Green, Kentucky.