Historic First: Charter Schools Advisory Council holds first meeting

I had the pleasure yesterday to attend the inaugural meeting of Kentucky’s new Charter School Advisory Council in Frankfort. This is something very new for Kentucky and marks an important step along the road to bringing some real school choice to the state.

The new council, chaired by UK Professor Wayne Lewis, wasted no time getting down to business. After an important reminder that the council is subject to Kentucky’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws, the council reviewed four separate charter school draft regulations that provide necessary detail for Kentucky’s House Bill 520 from the 2017 Regular Legislative Session. These regulations are:

701 KAR 8:010 Student application, lottery, and enrollment

701 KAR 8:020 Evaluation of authorizer performance

701 KAR 8:030 Revocation and nonrenewal process for authorizers

and 701 KAR 8:040 Conversion charter school creation and operation.

It was clear that a lot of good work has already gone into creating these new regulations, and the council made some good suggestions to further improve the drafts.

Next step, the Kentucky Board of Education, which eventually must approve these new regulations, will have its first look at them in its next regular meeting on August 2, 2017.

After that, approved changes will be incorporated into the drafts and the new Charter School Advisory Council will examine those revised regulations once more before the next state board meeting in October 2017.

Clearly, it was a historic, new day for public education in Kentucky. The Courier-Journal sent a reporter to cover the full day’s activities, and you can read the report here.

The Herald-Leader’s education reporter was also on site, but I have not seen an article, so far.

In any event, some really great progress is being made to offer the state’s students some more choices in where they get their education, and everyone seems serious about getting this right. That is really exciting for Kentucky’s students.

Union chief’s example of public school innovation flunks

On July fourth the National Public Radio affiliate at Western Kentucky University published a highly ironic article, “Charter School Concerns Voiced by KEA President.” Hopefully, our students are learning better ways of providing supporting examples than the one Stephanie Winkler, the head of the Kentucky Education Association, stumbled over in her interview.

Trying to counter the pressing need for charter schools in Kentucky, the article says Winkler claims that “public schools have the ability to get creative and tackle difficult education issues.” Winkler then offered Jefferson County schools as an example.

How ridiculous!

Only very recently, Jefferson County Public Schools gave up on its “School of Innovation” project in the Maupin Elementary School. The dysfunction in this school, which was supposed to be a high model of reform, was so severe that it is now listed as a “Priority School.” The crash of innovation was so loud at Maupin that even its School Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) lost its governance authority. By the way, the SBDM undoubtedly was controlled by some of Winkler’s union members because, by law, teachers hold the controlling vote in every one of the state’s school councils.

Even the chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education admitted that poor district leadership was a key player in the Maupin fiasco.

[Read more…]

Trio of US Supreme Court cases point to expanded school choice options

It has been a busy week for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and school choice decisions were definitely a part of the docket.

Regarding the first decision, the Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled in a rather amazing 7-2 decision that the state of Missouri erred in denying funding to a church school for playground safety equipment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ruled that “…the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The Trinity Lutheran school ruling particularly raises eyebrows because it nibbles away at provisions in a number of state constitutions that prohibit providing public funding to private religious schools. The SCOTUS ruling signals those state restrictions might run afoul of the US Constitution.

By the way, these state constitutional provisions, often referred to as “Blaine Amendments,” were instituted in the late 1800’s as an attack on the growing presence of Catholic schools in the US. Kentucky is one of the states with Blaine language in its constitution, making the SCOTUS ruling of particular interest in the commonwealth.

While important, the Trinity ruling was regarded by the Washington Post and others as a narrow one that might not, by itself, signal a major challenge to Blaine Amendments in general might be in the offing.

That is why two more SCOTUS decisions, based in part on the Trinity Lutheran case, are especially important.

In the first of those actions, SCOTUS told the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider a 2015 decision that a voucher program in the Douglas County schools in that state was unconstitutional. That Colorado ruling was based on Blaine language in that state’s constitution.

Finally, yet another case from Arizona fleshes out what seems to be friendliness in SCOTUS for issues favoring school choice interests. In this one, the New Mexico Supreme Court was told to review its decision to deny textbook funding to private schools, including religious schools. The Albuquerque Journal reports:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion directs New Mexico justices to reconsider the textbook funding case in light of the Missouri playground case, in which justices decided it is unconstitutional to ban public funds from paying for certain projects at religious schools based solely on the schools’ private or religious status.”

The Journal additionally reports:

“’States are getting a clear message from the Supreme Court: They can’t exclude people from participating in government programs because of their religion,’ said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, the nonprofit law firm that represented the New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools.”

There also are some vague reports that SCOTUS told two other states with cases similar to those in New Mexico and Colorado to review their Blaine-based rulings, but we have not discovered details.

Overall, this has been a very important week for school choice supporters. While some would like the Trinity Lutheran decision to be considered only a very narrow ruling, the additional SCOTUS actions this week in the New Mexico and Colorado cases indicate the US Supreme Court actually has other ideas. Given the Trinity case’s virtually immediate fallout in Colorado and New Mexico, the overall implications of this week’s SCOTUS activities could have major implications for the constitutionality of the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments that might result in greatly expanded opportunities for more school choice.

Florida charter schools outperform

A relatively new report from the Washington Examiner says that charter schools in Florida now significantly outperform the traditional schools in that state.

Just of few of the comments include:

  • On state exams, charter students outperformed their peers in traditional schools in 65 out of 77 comparisons;

  • Charter students learned more from one year to the next in 82 of 96 comparisons that focused on learning gains;

  • In 20 out of 22 comparisons, charters had smaller achievement gaps in math, English and social studies between white students and their black and Hispanic peers.

So, Florida has set the bar high as Kentucky gets ready to launch its first charter schools. We need the same sort of outstanding results from our charters, too.

Private school vouchers help level the playing field

An Op-Ed from the Cincinnati Enquirer offers some interesting counters to those who criticize the use of school vouchers that allow former public school students with low family incomes to attend a private school of their choice instead.

The Op-Ed’s author, Aaron Churchill, points to a number of positive impacts from vouchers such as an opportunity for students who are not being well served by their public school to seek an alternative with higher potential. He also takes issue with critics that claim voucher programs don’t really do better with these students, pointing out that 14 of 18 top quality studies do show vouchers improve results.

[Read more…]

Charter School Stories: They provide superb educations in Boston

Even though Kentucky’s charter school law is now on the books, we continue to hear vehement but ill-informed attacks from opponents.

For example, about two weeks ago former Jefferson County School Board member, Stephen P. Imhoff, sounded off in the Courier-Journal with some off-target comments about charters.

Said Imhoff, “The entire concept fails.”

Well, parents of some students in Boston’s Brooke Charter Schools clearly know Imhoff is spreading nonsense, as you can hear for yourself in this very short You Tube.

So, which would you prefer, a school like a Brooke Charter School or the recent Jefferson County Schools’ disaster that occurred in Maupin Elementary School?

I think the choice is clear – and that is Kentucky’s students need choices like charter schools.

Will it be strike two for Jefferson County Schools’ Chief Academic Officer manning?

More major problems are brewing for the already beleaguered Jefferson County school system.

On April 21, 2017, an online service connected to the Birmingham News newspaper reported that Lisa Herring, the current Chief Academic Officer (CAO) at the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS), is a finalist to become Birmingham, Alabama’s new school superintendent.

So, it appears Herring, who has been on the job less than a year in Louisville, isn’t exactly in love with her current position in JCPS.

This is no surprise. In fact, the CAO position at JCPS had a highly troubled history even before Herring arrived, and recent events point to a lot more heat headed in the CAO’s way.

[Read more…]

Quote of the Day

“Experience suggests that traditional district schools, on their own, are probably incapable of adopting the structural and practice changes necessary to prepare the majority of students for the challenges of an uncertain future. The state must provide the authority and resources to motivate and help districts adopt successful innovative practices developed by pioneering charter and district schools.”

Ron Wolk, Founding Editor of Education Week, March 1, 2017

Bluegrass Beacon: KERA architect spreads fake news about education climb

BluegrassBeaconLogoDavid Hornbeck, an architect of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) who describes himself as a “consultant to the Kentucky legislature, 1989-1990,” claims in a recent op-ed opposing charter schools: “Kentucky’s children have made more progress than those of any other state in the nation.”

For such a claim to hold up under scrutiny of the evidence – something Hornbeck fails to provide even in the least amount to support his sunshiny analysis – it must totally disregard what happened to Kentucky’s black students, the commonwealth’s largest racial minority, after KERA came along.

Only four of the 28 states with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade math data needed to compare progress among black students from 1990 – the earliest available – to 2015 improved less than Kentucky’s blacks.

Meanwhile, other southern states like North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas matched or exceeded the national-average increase in black students’ math scores between 1990 and 2015.

Can it just be coincidence that each of those states has for years allowed primarily minority, low-income parents the opportunity to choose what’s often a better educational alternative for their children: charter schools?

It’s also not likely coincidental that Kentucky by not allowing its parents that same option of enrolling their children in charter schools never came close to any of these states in terms of academic improvement.

The General Assembly has now made that option available with passage of charter-school legislation during the waning days of this year’s legislative session.

Neither is it happenstance that KERA’s most ardent defenders –  including teachers-union representatives and longtime members of the education establishment – provide the most zealous opposition to school choice and feverishly hope the charter-school movement fails in the Bluegrass State.

At the very least, Hornbeck’s claim of “more progress” made by Kentucky’s children than in “any other state” shatters once you realize the commonwealth’s eighth-grade blacks improved by only one paltry point on NAEP reading scores between 1998 and 2015.

Is Hornbeck unaware of the performance of black students in Tennessee, which ranks fourth nationally for its increase in eighth-grade reading scores during that same 17-year period?

Might this be a good place to mention that Volunteer State parents have had the option of charter schools during all but four years of that 17-year period?

Travel further south to Florida, which offers a multitude of school-choice options in addition to charter schools – including vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and open-enrollment choices – and there you will find a state where black students, who trailed their fellow blacks in Kentucky by 10 points in 1998, are now four points ahead of their black peers in the Bluegrass State.

Hornbeck’s claim that Kentucky is a nation-beater doesn’t even hold up among Kentucky’s white students.

Whites comprise 80 percent of the commonwealth’s public-school population but only statistically significantly outscored their fellow whites in just two other states in eighth-grade math scores in 2015.

House Bill 940, which passed in 1990 and is better known as KERA, declares in Section 3: “Schools shall expect a high level of achievement from all students.”

Did Hornbeck, operating in his “consultant” role, get paid to write that sentence?

If so, doesn’t he owe taxpayers a refund considering the lack of progress among our neediest students since KERA became law 27 years ago?

These are the very children who most need charter schools and are the primary reason why House Bill 520 – which finally opens the doors to charters in Kentucky – made it through this year’s legislature.

Disadvantaged kids also are the reason why we must make sure local boards of education, which HB 520 designates as sole authorizers in 171 of Kentucky’s 173 school districts, give charter-school applicants a fair shot – something too many of these students haven’t found in our commonwealth’s KERA-based, one-size-fits-all public education system.

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.

Charter School Stories: They please folks in North Carolina

Even though a Kentucky charter school law is now on the books, we continue to hear vehement attacks from opponents. The State Journal reported on April 4, 2017 in “Kentucky lawmakers say negative impacts of session will be felt across the state” that one opponent, Kentucky Representative James Kay, D-Versailles, believes “the impact of charter schools will be devastating.”

Apparently, folks who actually have their children in some of North Carolina’s charter schools don’t agree, as you can hear in this very short You Tube.