Kentucky House passes charter schools bill - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky House passes charter schools bill

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The Kentucky House of Representatives debated House Bill 520 on charter schools for more than two hours on Friday. (Photo by Lawrence Smith, WDRB News) The Kentucky House of Representatives debated House Bill 520 on charter schools for more than two hours on Friday. (Photo by Lawrence Smith, WDRB News)
How the Kentucky House voted on house bill 520 on charter schools. How the Kentucky House voted on house bill 520 on charter schools.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) - After hours of acrimonious and emotional debate, the Republican-led state House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday to allow charter schools in Kentucky. 

Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, is the sponsor of House Bill 520, which passed with a vote of 56-39, now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it could be discussed and passed as early as next week.

"One would probably ask, why as a public school teacher, would you sponsor a charter school bill?" Carney said while on the House floor. "The reason for that being this: In my 20 years of public education I have found that one size does not fit all."

The bill was introduced on Feb. 17 and passed the House Education Committee on Friday morning with a few changes. The changes -- which include the removal of language regarding virtual charter schools -- were made after receiving feedback from school board members and superintendents, Carney said.

The changes also include an amendment from Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, to allow the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to authorize charter schools, in addition to school districts, which is what was outlined in the original bill.

If passed by the Senate, 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.

Both the two-hour debate in front of the education committee and the two and a half hour debate on the House floor were emotional and personal at times as some lawmakers argued that public schools helped make them who they are today, while others talked about how they were lost in the system. 

"This bill privatizes public schools," said Rep. James Key, D-Versailles. "It allows corporations to run our schools, pay our teachers less and treat our teachers like unskilled employees instead of the professionals that they are."

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said HB 520 will being some competition and allow Kentucky to try "different things" when it comes to education.

"Will it be perfect?" he asked. "No...because our current system isn't perfect. Why are we locking them in bad schools?"

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, called the bill a "bad piece of legislation." He said it was not vetted properly and needed to "go back to the drawing board."

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer weighed in on the debate while it was still going on in the House, saying that "while a charter school bill was not part of my legislative agenda, I support any effort to give our children the very best education possible."

"First and foremost, we must ensure a quality education is accessible to all children in all neighborhoods, and work to close student learning gaps," Fischer said in a statement. "Research shows that good charter schools can deliver educational improvement."

Fischer added that if the Kentucky legislature is going to pass a charter bill, "I believe the mayor, in addition to the local school board, should be included as an authorizer, as they have been in other successful charter school models. I urge the General Assembly to only implement those charter characteristics that have been proven to deliver successful results."

Earlier in the day, Gov. Matt Bevin testified during the committee meeting, saying that the idea that charter schools "will harm public schools is a lie."

"At the end of the day, this is about educating the young people in Kentucky," Bevin said. "We are about due to start putting the young people of Kentucky first. 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."

Bevin added he was "personally disgusted” by those who opposed the bill, saying they were obsessed with power and money.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said she was "disgusted with people who do not support our hard working teachers in this state."

Stephanie Winkler with the Kentucky Education Association voiced her organization's opposition during the committee meeting.

"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," Winkler said. "Yet as you have seen, educators are not in favor of charters."

This story will be updated.

Reporter Antoinette "Toni" Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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