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Charter schools 'very, very likely' in Kentucky

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Charter schools 'very, very likely' in Kentucky

By Hannah Sparling-The Kentucky Enquirer-via Kentucky Press News Service

Some rejoice at the thought.

Others recoil.

Either way, it's "very, very likely" charter schools are coming to Kentucky, said Rep. John "Bam" Carney, the House Education Committee chair who on Friday filed a bill that would allow an unlimited number of charter schools throughout the state.

Carney thinks the change will be methodical - "I certainly don't expect charters to pop up all over Kentucky overnight" - but it's time to acknowledge, he said, that for some students, they're stuck right now in schools that aren't serving them well.

"Traditional public schools will always be, for most students, the No. 1 option," Carney said. "But we do have a significant portion of the population who are looking for different alternatives. Maybe the traditional public school is not meeting their needs."

Charter schools are privately managed but publicly funded. Advocates say that frees them up to innovate and serve a neglected population. Opponents say it allows them to run amok.

Kentucky is currently one of only seven states that does not allow charter schools. Neighboring Ohio enacted its charter school law in 1997, according to the Washington, D.C- based Center for Education Reform. Indiana started allowing charters in 2001. The closest state without a charter law is West Virginia .

Still, NKY superintendents aren't jumping for joy.

"We're already in a situation where our public schools are woefully underfunded by the state," said Fort Thomas Independent Schools Superintendent Gene Kirchner . At Fort Thomas, among the highest-performing schools in Kentucky, the state pays $3,900 per student, Kirchner said, but the district spends $9,000 per student. That leaves a heavy burden on local taxpayers that might get heavier if more schools are added.

"We're not afraid of competition," Kircher said. "It's not about that. The question is: Where will the money come from?"

Carney's House Bill 520 is the latest and most-likely-to-pass of three recent charter-school bills introduced in the Kentucky legislature. Among its highlights:

Charter schools would be authorized by local school boards with, Carney said, a "very strong appeals process" to the state board of education. That would prevent a school board from turning away charters just to prevent competition.

Charter schools would get a chunk of federal, state and local tax money for each student. That money would pass through local school districts and on to whatever charter the student chooses.

A teacher on a continuing contract with a traditional school district could take up to two years' leave to teach at a charter school. If that teacher decides within that time frame to leave the charter school, he is guaranteed a teaching job at his former district.

Charter schools could open as early as the 2018-19 school year. There is no cap on how many could open, though Carney thinks it would be best "to start off rather conservatively, with just a handful of schools."

Kentucky is ranked No. 28 in education nationwide, according to the annual Quality Counts report that grades each state on school finance, k-12 achievement and a student's chance for success.

Ohio is higher, at No. 22 this year, and Indiana is one up from that, at No. 21. All three states earned straight Cs.

Improvement is necessary, said Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent Jay Brewer, but he wishes people would more fairly evaluate education, seeing the good with the bad "and not always listening to the few outliers that are claiming the world is coming to an end with Kentucky public schools."

Rather than charter schools, Brewer would prefer Kentucky put money and energy toward expanded preschool or offering a longer school year to students who struggle.

"I think the research is going to strongly support those are more valid ideas than the charter school option," he said.

Brewer also worries charter schools will further segregate Kentucky's students. Those with heavily involved parents might be more likely to try a charter. They'll leave the traditional public schools, taking funding with them, Brewer said, "and it's going to leave a great divide and a great challenge for the group that's left."

It's already turning into a heated debate in Kentucky, with strong opinions on each side. Charter-school advocates point to parents and students who want options but can't afford private school. Without charter schools, those families are stuck with the status quo.

Opponents point across the river.

Ohio has been mocked on a national level for its poorly regulated, poorly performing charter sector. In 2015, a high ranking state official resigned after admitting he intentionally scrubbed data to make charter schools look better. There are stories of Ohio charter school closing without notice, leaving parents scrambling and students stranded.

"In the midst of all those kinds of things, there will be children," Kirchner said. "It's the notion of creating a whole new entity with vague details that is concerning."

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