Bluegrass Institute — Charter-school bill: Will kids win?

BluegrassBeaconLogoThe Bevin administration and House Republican leadership – despite hard pushes for other platform priorities such as right-to-work and prevailing-wage repeal – may settle for a mediocre charter-school bill.

This is a testament to the stronghold the public-education complex has on our commonwealth and to its willingness to put money and control before students’ best interests.

Charter-school legislation has passed the state Senate for years, including Sen. Mike Wilson’s bill last year that sailed through with a 28-9 vote but ran aground before reaching the other end of the Capitol – a pattern we’ve seen for years.

Then came Election Night 2016 when the GOP took control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century.

Voters handed Republicans supermajority status in the historic November election and seemed to say – as they had to then-candidate Matt Bevin during the previous year’s gubernatorial campaign: “Go to Frankfort, make the tough decisions and don’t worry about your re-election.”

Legislators led by a new and energized majority leadership responded by passing seven bills in the session’s historic first week concluding with an equally momentous Saturday session despite threats from protesting union bosses in the halls of the Capitol to defeat them in the next election.

Then came the charter-school bills.

Rep. Phil Moffett’s House Bill 103 would have allowed mayors in Kentucky’s largest cities, the Council on Postsecondary Education as well as colleges and universities with accredited education colleges to serve as charter-school authorizers – a best practice working well in other states.

Then superintendents, teachers-union bosses and the public-education complex in general threatened to make this the last term in Frankfort for anyone supporting a strong charter-school bill.

Along came Rep. John “Bam” Carney’s House Bill 520, limiting authorizers to local school boards except for mayors in Metro Louisville and Lexington, albeit with an appeals process to the Kentucky Board of Education. That bill passed the Kentucky House and now sits in the Senate Education Committee.

So, education-complex threats may be strong enough to force Kentucky policymakers to settle for a bill, the mediocrity of which mirrors this state’s education system in which, as Moffett notes, only 51 percent of high-schoolers can read at grade level and just 38 percent are proficient in math.

The Bevin administration sees Carney’s bill as an opportunity to get the door opened for charter schools in one of only seven remaining states without charters.

But even Bevin conceded he “would have liked to have seen more than is in this bill” while insisting “we have to factor in what is possible.”

Another possibility, of course, is to wait until a stronger bill can be passed – not the first time we’ve mentioned in this column that route for serious consideration.

At the very least, facts should drive the debate that will take place in the coming days in Frankfort, including this one: charter-school creation is much-more robust in states with multiple authorizing agencies.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports there were 6,723 charter schools in the United States during 2015, of which 93 percent – or 6,241 – were in states with multiple authorizers. Only 482 – or 7 percent – exist in states that limit authorizers to local school boards.

For sure, the angst and debate regarding charter-school policy will test the political mettle of those sent to Frankfort by constituents assuming they would be in favor of strong reforms to our education system, which consumes 60 cents of every taxpayer dollar.

Will they stand up to the teachers unions’ uninformed and angry zealotry?

Will they fight for poor and at-risk children who stand to gain the most from great charter schools and who have no other voice but ours?

Will the best interests of thousands of young Kentuckians stuck in hundreds of mediocre and failing schools find a seat at the legislative table and a place in that debate?

Stay tuned.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read his weekly Bluegrass Beacon column at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

News release: Bluegrass Institute asks state Senate to make mayors, universities and the CPE authorizers of charter schools

For Immediate Release: Monday, March 6, 2017  BIPPS LOGO

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – The Kentucky House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation enabling the creation of charter schools in the commonwealth – a school-choice option currently available to families in 43 other states and the District of Columbia.

Legislators voted 56-39 to approve Rep. John “Bam” Carney’s House Bill 520, which allows the creation of charter schools statewide but limits authorization – and much of the control of – charters in most districts to local school boards.

An amendment passed in Friday’s hearing of the bill by the House Education Committee would allow the mayors of Metro Louisville and Lexington to serve as authorizers.

The bill now moves over to the Senate for its consideration.

“We would encourage the Senate to strengthen this bill by allowing mayors in other cities, universities and colleges with accredited schools of education and the Council on Postsecondary Education to also serve as authorizers – or to, at the very least, include mayors of some of the growing cities in the authorization process,” Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said.

“The fact that there are local superintendents and boards of education that expressed hostility toward the concept of charter schools before this year’s legislative session even began –  and long before Rep. Carney’s bill was even introduced – speaks strongly to the fact that charter-school applicants are unlikely to get a fair hearing or support from these anti-choice zealots,” Waters said.

For instance, the Elizabethtown Independent Schools Board of Education on Dec. 19 – two full weeks before the legislative session began – passed a resolution unanimously opposing charter schools.

Charter schools are innovative public schools designed by educators, parents or civic leaders, which, in exchange for freedom from many of the stifling regulations and red tape hampering teaching in traditional public schools, pledge in their charters to perform at a higher academic level.

Nationwide, high-performing charter schools are helping close achievement and graduation gaps by offering a real public-education alternative to parents and students who cannot afford to pay private-school tuition or move closer to a better school.

Yet this option likely will not be available in districts like Elizabethtown Independent unless additional authorizers are permitted.

“It’s illogical to believe that a school board so ideologically opposed to the very idea of charter schools in an in-your-face manner is going to acquiesce and not only allow charters but oversee them in a supportive manner that gives them a fair shot of success,” Waters said.

Both Elizabethtown Independent and neighboring Hardin County school districts face serious gaps related to their performance with minorities. Charter schools are helping close such gaps across the nation.

We believe the following information about what’s happening in Hardin County and Elizabethtown Independent school districts bolsters our case for additional authorizers to ensure charter-school applications are fairly considered:

* Despite receiving $16.7 million in funding to educate 2,400 students during the 2014-15 school year – a 44-percent increase in real dollars from the 2006-07 school year – the state’s K-PREP scores indicate less than 12 percent of Elizabethtown’s black elementary school students were proficient in math during the 2015-16 school year.

* The whopping 42-percent gap in math proficiency between black and white elementary school students (incidentally, white students’ 54-percent proficiency rate isn’t anything to send home on the bus, either) is much larger than even the statewide 24-percent gap.

* Considering less than 60 percent of white high schoolers in Elizabethtown Independent and fewer than 50 percent in Hardin County schools are demonstrating proficiency in math, white families need options, too.

* Even with a current nonresident student agreement between the two districts, which allows parents to enroll their children in a neighboring district, there’s not much of a real choice as both districts struggle with large white minus black achievement gaps and dire academic performance by minority students.

Nationwide, charter schools are proving a valuable tool in helping struggling students make often-dramatic progress in not only closing the white minus black achievement gap but also in academically surpassing their peers in traditional public schools.

Opponents of this form of parental school choice often point to the performance only of first-year charter-school students in claiming that charters don’t excel.

However, given that the U.S. Department of Education in its examination of quality charter schools noted that many students enter these schools “performing far below grade level” and “are from neighborhoods and families with scant resources,” it’s not surprising that that students who have only spent a year in charter schools remain notably behind.

The research shows: these new students simply haven’t been in the charter school long enough to benefit.

Carefully gathered data by Stanford University’s Center for Research and Education Outcomes (CREDO) reveals:

* By the time students spend two years in charter schools, they move ahead of their traditional public-school counterparts by an equivalent of several weeks of learning in both reading and math.

* Even more remarkable, nationwide, on average, by the time students spend four or more years in charters, they are out in front of their traditional public-school counterparts. In math, the charter students have about an equivalent of 43 extra days of learning in math and 50 additional days in reading.

* In Louisiana’s above-average charter system, by the time students spend four or five years in a charter school, they generally outperform their traditional public-school peers by about 180 days – the equivalent of a full extra year of schooling – in both reading and math.

* Students who spend four years in New York City’s outstanding charter system received the benefit of an additional 216 extra days of learning in math.

“Considering the remarkable gains being made in charters schools nationwide – particularly with at-risk students – the state Senate should strengthen House Bill 520 by adding at least one other type of authorizer in districts like Elizabethtown, which have been openly hostile to even the concept of charters,” Waters said.

“Adding authorizers will increase the likelihood of more – and better – charter schools by encouraging organizations with proven track records when it comes to creating and operating charter schools to apply while lessening the likelihood that local school districts will be able to stifle the creation and blossoming of these innovative public schools,” he added.

For more information, please contact Jim Waters at jwaters@ freedomkentucky.com, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).

 

 

Bluegrass Beacon: Provide multiple paths for charter-school creations

BluegrassBeaconLogoSchool-choice opponents in my Twitter domain are having 140-character conniption fits over President-elect Donald J. Trump’s stellar decision to choose Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos as the nation’s next education secretary.

They claim their opposition is because DeVos doesn’t have “classroom teacher” on her resume.

Yet what’s really at the heart of the pushback from DeVos’ detractors is her stout support for charter schools, which are public schools that promise a higher level of student achievement in exchange for the freedom from many of the burdensome regulations that often stymie innovation and hinder great teachers and administrators in traditional public schools.

These critics want Kentuckians to believe that any effort to give parents the option of sending their children to high-performing public charter schools is somehow a slap in the face to teachers or public education.

Yet the fact that Trump was handed the presidency and his party the super majority-sized keys to the Kentucky House of Representatives indicates that voters saw through these arguments as being little more than emotional riffraff unworthy of standing in the way of making the commonwealth the 44th state to include charter schools in its public-education universe.

Opponents now have decided that if they can’t keep a law from being passed, they will attempt to intimidate policymakers into passing a weak policy limiting the number of charter-school creations and the opportunities for charters that do open to succeed.

Leftover appointees from the previous Beshear administration not only kept the Kentucky Board of Education from endorsing charter schools but also succeeded in recently getting the body to recommend that only local school boards receive authorization to create charters.

Legislators who back a policy restricting charter-school applications to a single path through local school-district bureaucracies where staunch opposition to any type of parental choice often lurks will unwittingly support an approach that limits the number – and likely success – of future charter schools in Kentucky.

Per the Center for Education Reform (CER):

  • Around 75 percent of America’s charter schools are in states offering more than one path to authorization for credible entities applying to open a charter, including universities and local governments.
  • States with multiple authorizers “are also home to the highest quality charter schools, as evidenced by state test scores, numerous credible research studies and ongoing observation.”

CER observes that states limiting authorization of charter schools to local school boards “create hostile environments for charters because school boards often view charter schools as competition and reject applications not based on merit, but on politics.”

Without more than one authorizer, applicants who want to open a charter school have no alternative or opportunity to appeal outside the same system that fails many of the students who would find a better education in a charter.

Flashes of the kind of hostility we could expect from Kentucky edu-crats toward charter schools have been on full display in communities that previously had inter-district student-transfer agreements, which allowed parents to choose the best public school for their children to attend – even if the school was in a neighboring district outside the one in which they reside.

For years, hundreds of parents in communities from Jackson in the mountains to Murray in the West – and Corbin and Bowling Green in between – took advantage of these agreements between school districts.

However, because state law requires such agreements be signed by the both districts’ school boards in order for state funding to follow students to a neighboring district, bureaucrats and local school boards in failing districts – who were losing students and state education dollars to higher-performing ones – quit signing these agreements, thus denying hundreds of Kentucky children a better education.

What are the chances these same bureaucrats would approve high-performing charter schools in their districts?

Probably about the same as they gave Trump of winning the presidency.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.