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: Groups stand together in support of robust charter-school policy

TFF-2016-Website-LogoFor Immediate Release: Tuesday, BIPPS LOGO
February 21, 2017                                                                    

Contact: Martin Cothran @ 859.329.1919, Jim Waters @  270.320.4376

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) — The Family Foundation of Kentucky and Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions have joined forces in calling for state lawmakers to seize the opportunity to pass the nation’s most robust charter-school law.

“Educational innovation is only possible if the conditions allow for it,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky. “If a charter law does not allow for innovation, then there is likely to be no innovation.”

Charter schools are innovative public schools in which teachers and administrators are free of many of the regulations that tie the hands of capable educators in regular public schools and where a higher level of accomplishment is promised in exchange for the freedom to innovate.

A winning charter-school policy for Kentucky allows:

  • Authorizers beyond local school districts

For example, Rep. Phil Moffett’s House Bill 103 lets local school districts, mayors of Louisville and Lexington, public or private universities with accredited education colleges and Council on Postsecondary Education authorize the creation of charter schools. Only this freedom will ensure that these innovative schools are not hampered in their mission to provide families a quality education alternative.

  • An unbiased appeal opportunity before the Kentucky Board of Education

Charter-school applicants whose applications are denied by the aforementioned authorizers must have the possibility of another path by appeal to the state education board.

  • A robust process for alternative teacher certification.

Teacher certification requirements should allow for teachers to be trained outside the standard processes now available almost exclusively through teachers’ colleges. This would allow prospective teachers to gain exposure and expertise in content knowledge and innovative teaching methodologies unavailable in many existing teacher certification programs. One of the benefits of charters is their ability to offer innovative alternatives to establishment schools, a benefit that is made difficult to gain if educators are trained in the antiquated progressivist practices common in teachers’ colleges.

  • Charter schools in all public-school districts in Kentucky

Considering that 42 percent of Kentucky’s population lives in rural areas, we must ensure everyone –  from poor rural Kentuckians to minority students in our commonwealth’s urban, low-income neighborhoods –  the same equitable access to an excellent public education.

“A failure to allow for these freedoms could hamstring charters and result in schools no different than the failing schools to which they are intended as an alternative,” Cothran said. “Lawmakers should make sure they pass legislation that does not set up charters for failure, failure the educational establishment will use to prevent further change.”

Both organizations pledged to stand together and work toward bringing the hope and opportunity of a great education to the children and families of the commonwealth.

For comment and more information, contact Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky @ 859.329.1919 or Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters @ 270.320.4376.