Charter schools bill passes committee, moves on to full Kentucky - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Charter schools bill passes committee, moves on to full Kentucky House

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The Kentucky House of Representatives (WDRB file photo) The Kentucky House of Representatives (WDRB file photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A charter schools bill that was introduced two weeks ago and appeared to have lost traction picked up steam on Friday and was passed by the Kentucky House Education Committee and is expected to move to the full House this afternoon.

House Bill 520, which is sponsored by House Education committee Chairman John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, was introduced on Feb. 17. It would allow public charter schools to open in Kentucky in the 2018-19 school year.

Carney said he amended the bill on Thursday night to address concerns such as the virtual school component and some issues regarding financing.

The bill was the only item on the 9 a.m. education committee agenda and was heavily debated for two hours and included testimony from Governor Matt Bevin and others before it passed 12-8. Rep. Jill York of Grayson was the only Republican to vote no on the measure.

"The time has come for this legislation," Bevin told the committee members. "At the end of the day, this is about educating the young people in Kentucky."

Bevin added: "We are about due to start putting the young people of Kentucky first. It's just that simple. This is not a threat to anything but failure. This is a threat to those that have failed to deliver in certain school districts and schools in particular."

The committee room was packed with both charter schools supporters and opponents. Supporters wore "I love my public school" stickers and T-shirts. 

Milton Seymour, a Kentucky Board of Education member from Louisville, and Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner were also among those to speak in favor of charter schools, as well as the Americans for Prosperity Kentucky and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Among those to testify against the measure were Stephanie Winkler with the Kentucky Education Association, Brent McKim with the Jefferson County Teachers Association and Libby Marshall, a Frankfort attorney who serves on the Frankfort Independent Board of Education.

During her testimony, Winkler became emotional, saying that Kentucky schools "have the opportunity to be innovative now."

"Opening a system of parallel schools is not in the best interest of students," she said. "If charter schools were the answer to the student achievement gaps in this state, the professionals that are working and trained to teach children would be advocating them, too. Yet as you have seen, educators are not in favor of charters."

The legislation would allow local school boards to review and then approve public charter applications. If an application is denied, the decision could then be appealed to the Kentucky Board of Education.

Carney's bill is the third charter school bill introduced this year, but it is expected to be the one everyone will focus on, as Gov. Matt Bevin has already voiced his support for the bill, which states public charters could be exempt from some state education regulations but would have to comply with the same testing, safety and finance regulations as other public schools.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, asked Seymour how charter schools would intermix with the neighborhood schools bill working its way through the Kentucky legislature. Meeks asked if the two would further segregate schools. Seymour replied that schools are already segregated.

"There is nothing about a segregated school that guarantees success," Bevin said. "Some charters that serve minorities are among the best."

Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, voted against the measure, saying she sees no evidence that charter schools would fundamentally change education. She also got Carney to acknowledge that he has not discussed his bill with any of the African Americans who serve in the House.

During the meeting, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D- Louisville, criticized the late arrival of committee substitute, which came late Thursday, and the fact that public comment on House Bill 520 was limited to 30 minutes.

She also asked Bevin if he has a financial interest in charters. Bevin said no.

"Words are cheap," Marzian replied. "If we could see tax returns...it would put proof in the pudding."

Carney has said that charter school teachers would face the same certification standards as teachers elsewhere. Enrollment preferences would be given to students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and students attending persistently low-achieving schools.

KEA says they concerned about the potential impact of charters on local school district funding, as the method of allocating resources to charter schools in HB 520 is concerning and unclear.

If Carney's bill becomes law, Kentucky would become the 44th state nationally to allow public charter schools, according to the Kentucky Charter School Project, an advocacy group.

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