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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A pair of Louisville Republicans have told their constituents that if public education dollars are cut in the upcoming budget, they will not support measures that establish funding guidelines for charter schools.

Gov. Matt Bevin maintained base per-pupil classroom spending in the state’s Support Education Excellence in Kentucky funding formula, also known as SEEK, for K-12 education in the 2018-20 budget proposal he unveiled Jan. 16.

But school districts would be on the hook for greater shares of transportation costs, which are partially funded by the state through SEEK, in Bevin’s proposed budget.

The budget is now in the hands of the state’s House of Representatives, which has not yet revealed its version of the two-year spending plan.

State Sen. Julie Raque Adams and Rep. Jason Nemes told their constituents in a letter Friday that they would not support charter school funding measures if SEEK is cut in the budget.

“Please know that as conversations continue regarding the budget, Senator Julie Raque Adams and Representative Jason Nemes both agree and want you to know that charter school funding is not a priority, or even a consideration, when the state is facing cuts to the SEEK formula,” the two wrote in the joint letter.

The General Assembly passed charter school legislation and reopened the current state budget last year, granting charters the same per-pupil SEEK funding that traditional public schools receive.

However, funding language for charter schools expires with the budget once the current fiscal year ends June 30.

The legislature could insert the same language in the upcoming biennial spending plan or pass a standalone bill that provides public funding for charter schools and doesn’t require legislative approval every two years.

Failing that, the prospects of charters opening in Kentucky would be murky at best given the financial uncertainty. Supporters say charter schools provide alternative educational choices for parents while opponents argue that charters will take needed resources from traditional public schools.

Both Adams and Nemes told WDRB News that the letter was not a signal that they no longer supported charter schools – they voted for House Bill 520, which made Kentucky the 44th state with charters last year – but rather that they recognized the difficult financial straits that traditional public schools would face with state spending cuts.

“We just felt it was important to point out the reality that if we’re looking at cuts to the SEEK formula, then we need to be really careful we don’t divert anymore resources away from our public schools,” Adams said Monday.

Nemes said to him, the most important service state government provides is an education for schoolchildren.

“If you’re cutting SEEK funding, then the other things have to take a backseat like charter schools and things of that nature, and so we’re at a position right now because of the dire budget that we face where there is talk about cutting SEEK,” Nemes said.

“What Sen. Adams and I wanted to say was, rather clearly, that if we cut SEEK, we will not agree to pay for things like charter schools. If we don’t cut SEEK, then that’s in the conversation.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Rep. John “Bam” Carney, a Campbellsville Republican who chairs the House Education Committee and sponsored HB 520 last year.

Carney told WDRB News that he would like to see the General Assembly take up tax reform to ensure both traditional and charter schools can be adequately funded.

While he still supports charters as an option for parents and students, Carney said he doesn’t want funding for traditional public schools to suffer as a result. He and his colleagues in the House have been looking at ways to restore some of the education cuts proposed in Bevin’s budget as they draft their own version of the spending plan, he said.

“I just personally feel like until we can do that, the charter funding mechanism will have to take second priority to restoring the cuts,” Carney said.

Still, finding resources to restore proposed education cuts will be “extremely difficult” in a budget that includes substantially higher contributions to the state’s pension systems and modest revenue growth, he said.

“I’m confident we’re going to be able to do some restoration,” Carney said. “A lot of work’s going into that and the final product’s not ready, but I do think we’re going to be able to do some things. Again, to what level only time will tell.”

Jim Waters, president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute, said failing to pass a funding mechanism for charter schools would have a chilling effect on those looking to open such schools in the immediate future.

He noted that since charters receive SEEK funding currently, they should be considered part of the state's public education system. Voting for HB 520 and not supporting funding for charter schools "seems inconsistent," Waters said.

"It almost makes it like a symbolic vote rather than a meaningful vote," he said. "... Considering the great need we need, particularly in west Louisville, to get our low-income, minority students up to par so they can be productive citizens in the long term, not funding this option will cost us in many ways."

Gay Adelmann, a co-founder of the education advocacy group Save Our Schools Kentucky who also runs the website Dear JCPS, said she was pleased to see lawmakers back away from funding charters and said they should approve legislation that would repeal HB 520.

Adelmann is one of two Democrats hoping to challenge Adams in the 36th Senate District, and she said she decided to run for the General Assembly after it passed HB 520 on a 23-15 vote in the Senate and a 53-43 vote in the House.

“It doesn’t surprise us that they would try to distance themselves from last year’s vote, especially with the number of people that are stepping forward to run against them for office based on their previous anti-public-education position,” she said.

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

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