Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signs charter schools bill - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signs charter schools bill

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has signed a bill allowing charter schools to operate in the state.

The signing came on Tuesday, less than a week after the Kentucky Senate and House passed the revised bill. 

It makes Kentucky the 44th state nationally to allow public charter schools.

Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, was the sponsor of House Bill 520, which passed the Senate last Wednesday with a vote of 23-15 around 4:50 p.m. Five hours later, it passed the Kentucky House 53-43.

The bill allows for school boards and only the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to approve charter schools in those districts or cities. Earlier last week, the Senate Education Committee added language saying charter school teachers must be a qualified teacher and that students will not be able to go to a charter school across county lines unless a regional charter is created.

The changes also require mayors to provide written notice saying they want to be an authorizer of charters and clarified that only the mayor of Louisville would be able to authorize charter schools in Jefferson County, as opposed to mayors from the county's smaller cities.

The bill is written to allow charter school authorizers, such as school boards and mayors, to begin approving applications in the 2017-18 year. It's too soon to say when and where the first charter schools will be permitted to open.

After passing the full Senate amid criticism from Democrats on how charter schools would be funded, Republican senators fought back and filed an amendment to an unrelated House budget bill -- House Bill 471 -- which seeks to transfer federal funds and state money to cover the costs of students who move to charter schools. 

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, was furious at the move, saying "this is one of the worst things I have seen happen to public education in my lifetime."

During the House debate, Carney said that public charter schools will give Kentuckians more choices when it comes to public education.

"The reality is we have a system that does not work for every child in Kentucky," he said. "We teach to the middle. Too many folks are being left behind."

House Bill 520 was first introduced on Feb. 17 and was one of the most heavily debated this legislative session. Charter schools are public schools with special contracts allowing them to operate outside normal rules and regulations and are run by private groups.

Bevin was among those who testified in support of the legislation during education committee meetings in the House and the Senate.

"In all the states that this has been implemented, the public education system has never been made worse," Bevin said to the House committee last week. "Never. And in fact it has heightened everyone's game and children are better for it."

If the 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.

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a statement applauding the Kentucky General Assembly for passing charter school legislation.

"The flexibility offered by public charter schools encourages teachers and administrators to use good judgment in innovative ways to produce positive results for Kentucky children," McConnell said. "Most importantly, public charter schools give parents additional options when selecting the school that is right for their child, particularly when they feel the needs of their child aren’t being met through the traditional public school model."

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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