Charter school legislation passes Senate, heads for final legislative hurdle

Children in a classroom raising their hands.
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Senate vote on charter schools

A bill to bring public charter schools to Kentucky moved through the process Wednesday with passage through the Senate Education Committee and on the Senate floor.

The bill passed out of the Senate Wednesday afternoon with a 23-15 vote after lengthy discussion on the bill.

House Bill 520, sponsored by House Education Chair Bam Carney, would allow for public charter schools to open in the 2018-2019 school year.

Under this bill, charter schools would be allowed to open in any area of the state if approved. Local school boards would serve as the primary authorizer to review applications to open a charter school. The bill also sets up an appeals process that allows for applications to be reviewed by the Kentucky State Board of Education. A friendly amendment by Rep. Phil Moffett was adopted that allows the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to also serve as authorizers in those cities.

Public charter schools will be open to all students in the area. The bill includes language that would allow preference to be given to those who are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch, and students attending persistently low-achieving schools. If there are more applicants to the school than available slots, the bill sets up a process for a random lottery to decide enrollment. Hear more about the bill in an exclusive interview with Rep. Carney here.


Gov. Matt Bevin and Rep. Bam Carney

In the Senate Education Committee hearing of the bill Wednesday morning, Rep. Carney said adding charter schools to the state’s education options will change the lives of many children in Kentucky.

During the committee hearing, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin also stressed the need for charter schools citing successes in many other states and adding that the implementation of charter schools will “cost nothing of anyone but provides opportunities for many.”

“The bottom line is this is another alternative for students without a better choice,” Bevin said.


5th Grade Charter School Student Ellis Wilson

Ellis Wilson, a 5th grade student who attends a charter school in Ohio, testified in front of the committee with his mother to explain their experience in transitioning from public school to a public charter school. The 11-year old charter school student expressed he did not feel challenged in public school and described some of the educational opportunities he has experienced in attending a charter school.


Kentucky President and CEO Dave Adkisson

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Adkisson also testified in favor of the bill, noting the support of charter schools from both Presidents Trump and Obama and said he was proud to lend the support of Kentucky’s business community to the issue as education continues to be the top strategic priority of the Chamber.

Others speaking in favor of the bill included Kentucky Education and Workforce Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner and Pastor Jerry Stephenson of the Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition who both spoke of the need to bring charter schools to the Commonwealth in order to help populations that may have traditionally been overlooked.

In the Senate committee meeting, the bill’s language was slightly amended to tighten up language dealing with who will teach at the schools, how mayors of urban areas will become authorizers, and a few other details. The bill passed out of the committee 9-3 before moving to the floor.

House Bill 520 now goes back to the House for concurrence before heading to the governor’s desk for signature.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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