Inequity continues in Kentucky’s schools

This is no surprise to our regular readers, but LEX18 in Lexington just posed “Kentucky Schools Becoming Less White, But Inequities Persist,” which further substantiates what we’ve been saying for years.

However, there is a warning buried in the news item’s title that everyone in Kentucky needs to heed.

With the state slowly becoming less white, our failure to adequately educate our minority students becomes an increasing challenge for the overall well being of everyone. Given the facts of life in the global world economy where education is essential to higher wages, having more students who don’t have a competitive education is clearly of major concern.

Kentucky’s new charter schools head sounds off

The Kentucky Department of Education’s new director of charter schools, Earl Simms, talks to WDRB in Louisville about his new role and what is coming with charter schools in Kentucky.

Check the video interview here:

WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky’s charter school regulations have been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education and are now moving through the legislative review process. Very likely, this process will be completed in time for a chartering organization to get a new school up and running as early as the 2018-19 school term.

What happened when Minneapolis got some serious school choice?

There is a really interesting podcast from the Education Writers Association about a study conducted by reporters at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the impacts of school choice on what was once Minnesota’s largest school district.

What happened is interesting. When charter schools and district to district transfers became available, it wasn’t white students that bailed out of the traditional Minneapolis schools. It was kids of color who took the most advantage of these options – particularly blacks and Asians – and they did so for a number of reasons. That surprised the Star’s reporters who really expected to find white flight predominating. The reporters were also surprised that blacks who left for charters were not predominantly from upper income black families, either. For sure, the white flight myth some have pushed regarding charter schools didn’t pan out in practice in Minneapolis.

The reporters say students left the traditional public school system for a number of reasons such as behavioral problems in the traditional schools that are better controlled in charters and for the better academic environment that results. Parents interviewed said they were happy with their children’s new schools of choice and had no intentions of returning to the traditional system.

But, is it working? Due to privacy laws, the Star’s reporters could not access individual student data to positively track what happened to each student that took the choice option. However the reporters did do some checking that indicates schools where these kids transferred tend to do better for minority groups than the traditional schools in the Minneapolis system.

One more point caught my attention. With its student base dwindling, the traditional system in Minneapolis is finally waking up and starting to change, as well. The district is currently conducting a study, or assessment, of its own to find out what can be done to better serve students. That change in district behavior is EXACTLY what charter proponents have been saying would happen all along. Maybe the traditional school “boat” in Minneapolis will rise, yet.

This 14-minute podcast is well worth a listen and it shows, at least in Minneapolis, comments some have made to malign school choice are wrong.

KY State education board approves charter school regulations

Kentucky moved a step closer to its first charter school when the Kentucky Board of Education approved the initial versions of new charter school regulations that will govern the process for individuals and groups to seek approval to operate these schools of choice.

The four regulations approved, 701 KAR 8:010, 701 KAR 8:020, 701 KAR 8:030 and 701 KAR 8:040, cover a multitude of requirements such as how students will be enrolled in charters, using a lottery if necessary, evaluation of those who authorize charter schools, conversion of a failing traditional school into a charter school and many other details such as guidelines for the contract charter school organizers must complete and detailed description of the application form they must submit.

The regulations now will go through a public comment period during the month of November and a review of the expected comments by the state board at its December 2017 meeting. The regulations will then go through a review by several legislative committees before their anticipated final adoption in late February 2018. That could provide enough time for the first charter school request to be approved for the 2018-19 school year.

The board’s approval of these regulations marks an important waypoint in the development of better school choice opportunities in Kentucky. A lot of hard work was required to get to this point, and it was gratifying to see a very large number of individuals both at the Kentucky Department of Education and on a number of advisory committees were deeply committed to doing a high quality job for the students in Kentucky.

How’s that? With SBDMs Kentucky doesn’t really have any public schools?

Definitions from an Ed School prof makes it seem so

A recent Education Week article by Professor Sarah M. Stitzlein from the University of Cincinnati just caught my attention.

Stitzlein talks about “five responsibilities schools must meet to truly be called ‘public’.” Her third criterion is:

“They should be responsive to the public, enabling community members to vote out school officials or change school policies through meaningful and viable avenues like elections, referendums, and open school meetings.” (Note: “Community” is spelled correctly in the print edition of this article but the online version does have a typographical error)

So, community members in a real public school system – at least according to Stitzlein – should be able to vote out school officials and should also have control over school policies through elections and referendums. Citizens should also have free and easy access to school meetings, so those meetings need to be clearly and publicly announced.

Well, Kentucky’s current public school system, which doesn’t have any charter schools at present, flunks Stitzlein’s requirements.

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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.

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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.

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