With charter schools likely on the way, Kentucky educators look - WDRB 41 Louisville News

With charter schools likely on the way, Kentucky educators look for answers

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KY Board of Education special meeting on charter schools KY Board of Education special meeting on charter schools
JCPS Supt. Donna Hargens was among those attending JCPS Supt. Donna Hargens was among those attending

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Will they help students in failing schools or just make things worse?

With charter schools likely on the horizon in Kentucky, educators are trying to get answers to those questions.

The state school board held a day-long special meeting in Frankfort on monday to learn more about charter schools knowing that, with Republicans taking full control at the Capitol, charter schools in Kentucky are now more likely.

With an overflow crowd looking on, and the meeting streaming live online, the state Board of Education was schooled about charters by the experts.

“We must make these decisions with an unwavering commitment to nothing less than continued improvement,” testified Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Charters are public schools with special contracts allowing them to operate outside normal rules and regulations.

Kentucky is one of just seven states that currently ban them, but that could change next year.

“This could be a possible tool in the utility belt. But we want to make sure we make informed decisions about it,” Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said.

And there are many questions, such as how are schools created, who runs them, and how are they funded and held accountable.

“What we are trying to do now is think about what that definition for Kentucky might look like,” Pruitt said.

Experts did agree on one key issue, that charter schools generally most help African Americans and low income students.

That's just what board member Milton Seymour of Louisville wanted to hear. He has been a charter school advocate for years.

“If those schools are available, they can come out of those failing schools," he said. "They don't have to send those children back to those failing schools."

The big takeaway for board member Rich Gimmel of Louisville is that charters apparently help, not hurt, performance in traditional public schools.

“Well, if it's accurate, I think it is a game changer,” Gimmel said.

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens was among those attending. She declined to comment.

But the head of Kentucky's other urban school district, Fayette County, says he's keeping an open mind.

“I don't think it's the panacea, but I'm glad that we're having this conversation," Manny Caulk said. "Hopefully, there will be a broader conversation around educational funding as well."

Some observers remain skeptical.

“I just want to ensure that it's not just about poor little African-American children," said Elaine Farris who was superintendent for two Kentucky school districts. "I want it to be about all children and improving education across the board."

The board made no decisions, but may take an official position on charter schools at its December meeting.

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