Opening Statement: Dr. Lewis
Kentucky has made significant improvements in education since the 1980s. Since passage of the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) in 1990, the state’s education system has improved from being one of the absolute worst in the country to now being near the top of the bottom third of systems in the nation.
That progress is significant and commendable. Because of the forward-thinking and pioneering actions of Kentuckians to whom we will forever be indebted, the commonwealth’s schools are no longer in danger of being dead-last in the nation; and God-willing, we will never be in that position again.
But our progress should not be taken by Kentuckians to mean that there is not still much to be done. One of the most significant educational challenges we face is inequity. It is still the reality in some parts of our state that a child’s socioeconomic status will determine the quality of education provided to him.
For too many children in our state, the only public school option available to them is a failing school, or a school that cannot – or will not – meet their learning needs.
Achievement gaps remain and are holding steady in Kentucky between: low-income students and their middle class and affluent peers, students with special needs and their typical peers, and students of color and White students. Kentucky’s achievement gaps are shameful, and as a state, I know we can do much better.
All of our children deserve the opportunity to attend a high quality public school. But in order for all children in Kentucky to have that opportunity, parents of children trapped in schools that don’t meet their learning needs must have additional high quality public school options. Passing charter school legislation in Kentucky is essential to providing parents with those options.
Will passing charter school legislation fix all that ails education in Kentucky? Of course not. But passing a strong charter school law will absolutely result in the creation of additional high quality public-school options for children currently trapped in schools that none of us would want our children to attend.
Here are some facts about charter schools:
- All charter schools are public schools of choice; every single charter school in the U.S. is a public school. That means charter schools are open to the public and may not charge tuition. In fact, lotteries oftentimes are held for open seats in charter schools since the number of applicants usually far exceeds the number of openings.
- The only way students attend charter schools is if their parents send them there; no students are automatically assigned to a charter school.
- Charter school students take state-required standardized assessments just like all other public school students do.
- Charter schools nationally serve approximately the same percentage of children with special needs as traditional public schools assist.
With the charter school legislation proposed in Kentucky during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly (House Bill 85), charter schools would be funded like every other public school. Each charter school would receive a per-pupil allocation based on the number of students enrolled in that school. That fact is important for a few reasons:
- First, note that funding for education in Kentucky follows students to whatever school they attend. If a student attends a school in the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) district, the funds follow her to JCPS. If a student were to leave JCPS to attend an Oldham County school, the funds would follow her to Oldham County. In the same way, if a student left JCPS to attend a charter school, the funds would follow her to the charter school.
- Also, if no parents sent their children to a charter school – since no students are assigned to charter schools – the school would not receive funding and would be forced to close. The only way a charter school can open and remain open is if parents want their children to be there.
For a while in 2009 and 2010, it looked like Kentucky lawmakers and educational leaders would consider adopting charter school legislation in an effort to win federal funding as a part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program. Through that program, the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants to states for education-reform initiatives from a pot of $4.35 billion. After a great deal of political posturing, the Kentucky General Assembly failed to adopt a charter school law.
Although the proposed measure in 2010 would have only allowed for the conversion of chronically low-performing schools into charter schools, critics of the proposal argued that a last-minute change in the state’s Race to the Top application allowing for charter schools in Kentucky would have derailed the nearly unanimous support of the state’s school districts. In reality, however, unanimous support was not what lawmakers were afraid of losing. Instead, they were afraid of losing the support of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) and the Jefferson County Teachers’ Association (JCTA).
At the time, Kentucky education commissioner Terry Holliday claimed the loss of district support for the application as a result of including charters could be more costly to the state’s application than not including the charter schools provision. But Commissioner Holiday was wrong. In the end, it was Kentucky’s failure to adopt legislation allowing for the creation of high quality charter schools that doomed Kentucky’s chances of earning Race to the Top funding.
So why do teachers’ unions like the KEA and JCTA so adamantly oppose the passage of charter school legislation in Kentucky? The reason is actually pretty simple. Under the proposed charter school legislation in Kentucky, teachers in charter schools would not be eligible for tenure, and any current collective bargaining agreement between a local school district and a teachers’ union (i.e. JCTA contract) would not apply to teachers in a charter school.
Those proposed provisions of the law are intended to give charter school leaders the flexibility needed to recruit, select, supervise, evaluate, and if need be, terminate school staff based on performance rather than seniority. That kind of flexibility is necessary for school leaders to make the kinds of changes needed to meet students’ needs (as opposed to just keeping adults happy).
As you might imagine, KEA and JCTA are not big fans of that brand of performance accountability for teachers. But no teacher would ever be assigned to a charter school. The only teachers that would teach in charter schools are those that choose to apply and are selected to teach in one. Teachers who have no interest in being evaluated based on the performance of their students would be free to remain in JCPS with the protections of its JCTA collective bargaining agreement.
Finally, the specifics of charter school laws vary significantly from state to state. Some states’ laws have produced high quality public charter school options for families. Other states have not written thoughtful charter school laws. The results of those poorly crafted policies are charter schools that perform at or below the levels of traditional public schools, and serious deficiencies in charter school performance monitoring and accountability.
Because Kentucky has yet to pass a charter school law, lawmakers have the benefit of learning from the successes and failures of other states. I believe Rep. Brad Montell’s charter school bill (HB 85) incorporated many of the lessons that we in Kentucky have learned since passage of the nation’s first charter school legislation in 1991 in Minnesota.
The stakes are too high for too many children in Kentucky to continue with the political games surrounding charter school legislation. Let’s put our heads together and pass a charter school law in Kentucky that will benefit our children, our families and our state.
Opening Statement: Dr. Solomon
To understand charter schools better, we need to trace their history.
In 1955, libertarian economist Milton Friedman proposed that the government provide vouchers to parents to pay for enrollment in private schools instead of providing money directly to the public schools. Friedman’s rationale was that competition would improve all schools, but at the same time, this would essentially have abolished the public school system in America.
Although his suggestion was not taken seriously, free-market proponents since then have been trying desperately to dismantle and privatize K-12 schools. First it was vouchers and now charter schools, which are just another form of privatization. Neither vouchers nor charter schools are generally good for education or for our children.
In 1967, President Reagan came into office as California’s governor, again proposing vouchers. Reagan during his political career even vowed to eliminate the federal Department of Education. But his efforts were not successful in either cause. After Reagan’s push for vouchers proved unpopular, voucher advocates in state governments came up with what seemed like a more palatable end run called “charter schools.”
Although proponents like to call them public schools because they receive public funding by siphoning off money originally meant for public schools, charters really are private schools that are run by private individuals or private corporations.
They are completely outside the public school system when it comes to policies regarding teacher qualifications, acceptance of handicapped kids or curriculum content. This idea was quite attractive to many state legislators who eschewed tax hikes to fund vouchers but who were eager to take money away from public schools to fund charters.
Fast forward to 2001 when George W. Bush became president. One of his first acts was to propose tuition vouchers that would allow public school students to attend private schools. Congress balked at the idea, so his advisors developed Plan B, which was designed to prove that public schools were inferior. This plan would create an impossible goal whereby all children in public schools would need to score above-average on achievement tests.
No, it wasn’t presented in those words. The words were more subtle. It created several levels of student achievement such as: “basic,” “apprentice,” “proficient” and “distinguished.”
The Bush plan – called “No Child Left Behind” – demanded that all public school children in the United States be required to score “proficient” by 2014, with “proficient” meaning “above average.” The plan was intended to show that virtually every public school district in the country was failing and, so the theory went, the public would demand vouchers to rectify this seemingly horrible situation.
The plan called for increasing the required percentage of students that score above average each year until 2014 when all of them were required to do so. As the years went on and the percentage of schools with children that failed to reach the “proficient” level increased, charter school operators used that fact to propose that their schools would be more capable and state legislators used it to approve charters in most states.
There were estimated to be more than 6,000 charter schools serving about 2.3 million students during the 2012-13 school year. Charter schools are created by state governments with many different sets of rules under which they are established and operated. But there are several significant problems:
- Charters are appealing to free-marketers, but also to those wanting to make a profit by cutting corners, people making jobs for themselves and those desiring a religious education.
- Proponents claim that parents need school choice in deciding what is best for their children and that public schools don’t allow that. But they do. People very often purchase home locations based on schools.
- Charters can be operated by people without any educational or managerial experience, which results in far too many mismanaged charter schools by too many operators with inadequate educational capability. And they can hire teachers without any educational background or experience.
- While charters are typically required to accept any child whose parents apply, many can skirt this requirement by discouraging families from enrolling underserved children in order to boost test scores, especially when enrollment reaches the limit.
Advocates claim that charters will provide a better education than public schools, but those claims appear seriously flawed and groundless. While a small percentage may well be excellent, the vast majority are not.
A 2009 Stanford University study of 15 states containing 70 percent of the nation’s charter schools revealed that 83 percent of charter schools were either inferior to or no better than public schools. A 2013 Stanford follow-up study of 27 states, which included 95 percent of the students in U.S. charter schools, found a slight improvement. But in that study, 71 percent of charter schools were still either inferior to or no better than public schools.
The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute looked at 19 studies in 11 states and found that there is no evidence that, on average, charters outperform publics. A 2010 Department of Education study of Washington D.C. charters found the same. And because charter-school records are private, it becomes impossible to police them – and just as difficult to close those found to be either seriously inadequate or fraudulent.
Test scores of children in charter schools cannot be taken seriously for several reasons:
- The most-involved parents enroll their children in charters. We know that parental involvement is a key factor in academic achievement. Thus children with parental support should outperform the average. But then, these kids are compared with all public-school children – those with and without parental support.
- Kids who perform poorly in charters frequently drop out so only the better students remain.
- Widespread falsification of test scores is rampant.
Consequently, it is not possible to validly compare achievement test scores of charter and public school children. That would be like comparing lemons to limes.
However, these burning issues – whether charters outperform publics or parents need choice – seem largely irrelevant because the most distressing aspect of – and the primary reason to reject – charter schools is that charters skim off scarce funds from public schools that already find themselves financially challenged.
When these funds are diverted to charters, the public school system must make cuts to educational services for children. That cannot be good for our kids. Charter schools are not good for Kentucky because they would weaken our public schools.
Read the entire debate here: