LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Plans for charter schools in Kentucky were thrown into limbo Monday after the Republican-led legislature – which legalized the special schools last year – nonetheless failed to include public funding for them in last-minute budget and tax reform bills.
Joel Adams, executive director of the Kentucky Public Charter Schools Association, said the decision to pass charter school legislation during last year’s session and allow funding to lapse as this year’s budget expires “absolutely unprecedented.”
“I really think what happened last year was a lot of kids across the commonwealth got a life raft thrown to them, and it looks right now as if someone punctured a hole in that raft,” Adams said in an interview with WDRB News on Wednesday.
Charter schools currently receive the same per-pupil funding as traditional public schools after lawmakers reopened the current two-year budget and inserted that language as charter legislation passed during last year’s legislation session. The bill drew opposition from education groups like the Kentucky Education Association, which said charter schools would divert resources from traditional public schools.
The Senate included the current charter funding mechanism in its version of House Bill 366, which established revenue measures as part of the budgeting process, but money for charters did not make it in the compromised version passed Monday.
Adams says he’s hopeful that the legislature will return from the 10-day veto break and pass a funding measure for charter schools before lawmakers adjourn this year’s session.
“We’re really just trying to keep it focused on where the opportunities are lost here, and the opportunities are lost for those kids that were really looking forward to having a public school option for them,” he said. “These are some of the commonwealth’s most vulnerable kids, and they’re the ones that are kind of left high and dry here.”
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, and Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, signed a letter earlier this year that indicated they wouldn’t support financing charter schools if traditional public schools saw per-pupil funding cuts.
The budget that ultimately passed the General Assembly on Monday actually boosted per-student money for schools to the highest level in history, but Nemes told WDRB News on Wednesday that he and others in the legislature felt charter funding should take a backseat as other government services, such as higher education, were cut in the biennial spending plan.
While lawmakers could pass a new funding mechanism for charter schools when they return from the veto break, Nemes said he would be surprised if that happened.
“I can’t speak for the Senate obviously, but I don’t believe there’s the appetite in the House of Representatives to make that kind of a change,” he said. “I believe we feel like our revenue bill and our budget bill are done, and now it’s time to just move on.”
The uncertainty surrounding charter school funding comes as the state’s largest school district prepares for its role as a charter authorizer.
The Jefferson County Board of Education has been passing policies governing charter schools in recent weeks, with the first schools expected to open locally by the 2019-20 school year.
But that timeline may be delayed without a funding mechanism for charters beyond the current budget that ends June 30.
Nemes said he wouldn’t support considering a charter school funding bill in next year’s legislative session if the matter isn’t resolved in the closing days of this year’s session.
“I wouldn’t want to go into next year’s session thinking anything would be funded,” he said. “… The things that are exceptional, perhaps, but I go into next session thinking that nothing additional will come up because it’s just not a budget year.”
Adams has spoken with some prospective charter applicants who have been worried about the lack of action on passing a funding method for the new schools. While some hoping to open charter schools have been working on their applications “before the law even passed,” he said the General Assembly’s inaction on the issue this session “stops everything in its tracks for a while.”
“They know what they’re passionate about and the kids they want to serve, and they’re focused on those communities, so I don’t see this as something that’s going to slow them down in their efforts to try and help in any way that they can,” Adams said.
“As disappointed as we are, we really just want to see this thing remedied as soon as possible,” he said.
Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.
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