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 He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.

Bluegrass Beacon: Charter schools and the Walking (Brain) Dead


Like the Walking Dead episode where a peculiar virus strain allows zombies to come back to life – albeit with minimal brain activity – school-choice opponents keep resurrecting attempts to mislead Kentuckians by wrongly defining charter schools.

They hope to prevent such schools in Kentucky, despite the fact that 43 other states have passed legislation resulting in more than 6,000 charters serving 2.3 million students.

The latest such zombie-like brain freeze occurred at a recent Louisville Forum luncheon, where Raoul Cunningham, local NAACP president, claimed that charters are “private” schools that “cherry-pick” their students.

I, as a humble member of that panel, corrected Cunningham by noting that no charter-school law in America allows “private charter schools.”

I also explained that state laws governing charters not only prohibit them from excluding students, but also require random lotteries in the event that more students than available seats want to enroll.

Still, Cunningham simply doubled down on his erroneous and misleading definition.

It’s considerably easier, of course, to convince Kentuckians who have yet to climb the school choice learning curve that charter schools are unworthy and unnecessary in the commonwealth if you can convince them that they somehow serve only the elite and are consumed with creating an apocalyptic implosion in public education by thieving resources and good students from traditional classrooms.

Then there’s the truth from those, who – continuing the Walking Dead analogy – still enjoy full brain activity.

They are the characters in this narrative about properly defining charters who, despite their politics, ideology and views about the philosophy or even the performance of these schools, are intellectually honest enough to offer truthful definitions.

  • The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools defines charters as “unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Because they are public schools, they are: open to all children; do not charge tuition; and do not have special entrance requirements.”
  • Mendell Grinter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Like other public schools, charters are funded by local, state and federal tax dollars based on enrollment and are open to anyone.”
  • Keith McHugh, who writes on, a Common Core-friendly website sponsored by progressivists like Bill and Melinda Gates, acknowledges: “Like traditional public schools, charter schools are free, and they can’t discriminate against students because of their race, gender, or disability.”

Not only does McHugh accurately describe charter schools, he notes there’s a higher level of accountability than what we see in traditional public schools: “If a school is mismanaged or test scores are poor, a charter school can be shut down.”

  • Joe Nathan of the Center for School Change also accurately notes on the highly respected Education Week website: “state legislators in more than 40 states have decided chartering is part of public education.

By claiming that charter-school proponents have cloaked private, elite, cherry-picking schools in a shroud labeled “public education,” does Cunningham also maintain all of those state legislatures that passed charter-school bills and the governors who signed them into law in 43 different states were duped into thinking they were expanding public-education choices for mostly poor, minority families when, in reality, they were just benefiting the wealthy at the expense of their public system?

The last time I checked – which was earlier today – not only were traditional public schools still going strong in those states, but many of them are laying these zombie-like claims to rest by actually improving their own performance now that they aren’t the only game in town.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at