Charter school legislation begins to move through Kentucky General Assembly

Thursday, the Senate Education Committee took a step towards allowing charter schools in Kentucky when it passed Senate Bill 253. The legislation, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson, establishes a charter school pilot program that could be utilized in Fayette and Jefferson Counties.

If passed, Kentucky would see charter schools in those two counties that would be a part of the state’s education system but would receive exemptions from certain regulations that are applicable to the Kentucky Board of Education and local school districts. The flexibility would allow the charter schools to focus on closing achievement gaps that threaten at-risk-students. The newly formed schools would comply with the same safety, civil rights, and attendance standards as other public schools.

The charter schools would be authorized locally by a Public Charter School Commission established by SB 253.  Both Fayette and Jefferson Counties could authorize one charter each year in their district for the five year pilot program period. However, they are not required to do so. The Public Charter School Commission may also authorize one charter per year for those counties.

Selection for the schools would come from a lottery of student applicants from anywhere in the district but priority would be given to low income students and students attending low performing schools. The charter organization must be nonprofit.

In the committee meeting Thursday, Wilson said the bill is aimed at helping children through these new institutions that have the freedom and flexibility which he believes will help close the achievement gap in low performing areas and schools in the state.

Also testifying in favor of the bill, Education and Workforce Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner said he believes it is time to reach across the aisle and fix a broken model within Kentucky’s education system. Heiner pointed to schools within Jefferson and Fayette counties posting much lower performance scores than the state average and argued that the charter school bill will change that.

Dr. Wayne Lewis of the Education and Workforce Cabinet testified and illustrated the flaws he sees in the current system and said the charter legislation will allow for the state to provide another tool to aid struggling students and families.

The Kentucky Chamber has been a vocal supporter of enacting charter school legislation.

Representative Brad Montell introduced a companion measure in the House, HB 589. The Senate has passed similar legislation in past sessions. Wilson’s SB 253 moves on to the full Senate for a vote.

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