New director talks about challenges and opportunities of launching charter schools in Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Department of Education’s charter schools director is resigning May 25 as his wife starts a new career opportunity in St. Louis.

Earl Simms, who joined KDE in August, tendered his resignation on Monday. He told WDRB News that the sudden departure of former Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, who resigned during a special meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education after Gov. Matt Bevin appointed six new members, was not a factor in his resignation.

“The decision was made well before that happened,” Simms told WDRB News Thursday.

“My wife has an excellent opportunity in St. Louis with her career to go back there,” he said. “Kids miss their friends. I have three daughters, and we just really miss the community there.”

Simms, who earned a $90,000 salary in his role as director of charter schools, previously worked as St. Louis director at the University of Missouri’s Office of Charter School Operations and as senior director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association before joining KDE in August.

He says he plans to look for a job in the charter school sector when he and his family move back to St. Louis.

Kentucky enacted a public charter school law last year, and the state education board passed regulations on the schools last year.

In his final weeks on the job, Simms says he hopes to finalize draft model applications, evaluations, contracts and other documents for charter school authorizers.  

“I’m happy to have helped guide the charter school sector off the ground a little bit in my home state,” Simms said. “… I still care very much about seeing the charter school sector become a good, high-quality charter school sector within the state.”

Funding remains a key question for those hoping to open charter schools. The General Assembly included language in the current budget that allows charters to receive the same per-pupil funding as traditional public schools, but that expires at the end of the fiscal year July 1.

The legislature adjourned this year without inserting new language in the two-year budget that takes effect July 1 or passing a standalone bill providing a funding mechanism for charters.

“It’s obviously a question that has to be answered, but I think the future is bright for Kentucky’s charter school sector,” Simms said.

KDE spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said agency leaders haven’t determined when a new director of the Division of Charter Schools will be hired.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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