By Richard G. Innes, Staff Education Analyst
As lawmakers prepare to resume the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly after already passing historic labor reforms, pension transparency requirements and pro-life bills this year, their attention now turns to education policy and a vigorous debate about making Kentucky the 44th state to allow charter schools. Charter schools are innovative public schools of choice designed by educators, parents and civic leaders that operate free of many rules and regulations governing conventional public schools.
Unsurprisingly, giving parents the opportunity to choose which public school best fits their children’s needs threatens the entrenched bureaucracy’s interests. So, smoke screens get erected by opponents of educational freedom. One of those smoke screens involves inaccurate claims about “magnet schools.” The truth is that significant differences exist between magnet and charter schools. While both are public schools, their admissions policies could not be more different.
Magnet Schools: Magnet schools are present in some districts in Kentucky, including in Jefferson and Fayette counties, including Louisville Male High School in Jefferson County and the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA at Bluegrass) serving Grades 4 through 8 in Fayette County.
Unlike standard public schools, which must enroll anyone living in their designated service area, magnet schools are highly selective and generally only admit exceptionally high-performing students. As the table below shows, student demographics in both Male High and SCAPA at Bluegrass are very different from the overall averages found in their school districts. Perhaps most telling, both schools have far-lower poverty rates, as indicated by the eligibility for free and reduced-cost school lunches.
Charter Schools: In sharp contrast to schools like Male and SCAPA at Bluegrass, all charter schools in Kentucky would be open to any student who applies. Charter schools without sufficient space to serve all applicants would conduct random lotteries to fill the limited number of seats. In Kentucky, students would not be admitted to charter schools based on academic performance. None of the many charter bills proposed and debated in the General Assembly in recent years included language allowing the creation of such exclusive charter schools in the Bluegrass State.
Public charter schools in other states tend to be in high-needs, low-income neighborhoods and often have large enrollment percentages of minority students as well as those from low-income families. Thus, charter schools are targeted to serve very different needs from those served by exclusive magnet schools.
Charter schools often serve student groups habitually left behind in conventional public schools, as evidenced by large achievement gaps compared to upper-income white students found in conventional public schools. Kentucky’s magnet schools don’t serve large numbers of students from disadvantaged groups, don’t address gaps and are very unlike charter schools.
Richard G. Innes can be reached at 859-466-8198 or firstname.lastname@example.org.