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Bias against charter schools requires independent authorizers

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after appearing in publications statewide. This updated version reflects decisions related to the authorizing of pilot charter school projects since this column was first released.

With the defeat during November’s election of school-choice opponents, including Reps. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, and Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, supporters are hopeful that policy providing parents with alternatives for educating their children beyond schools assigned by local districts can be expanded and improved.

One commonsense, yet significant, upgrade would expand the groups allowed to authorize charter schools.

Yet, House Bill 9 (HB9), legislation passed earlier this year to fund charter schools, was greatly weakened by allowing only local school boards to serve a charter authorizers in most counties. The only exception would have allowed the Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents to authorize a pilot charter school in Kenton or Campbell counties. However, regents failed to act in their final meeting of the year on Dec. 13; the legislation gave the board until Jan. 1 to accept the role of authorizing a charter school.

Authorizers ultimately decide whether charter schools open and oversee them once they do. Having only charter-hostile school boards as authorizers pretty much sets up charter schools to fail.

After all, even before the General Assembly allowed the creation of charter schools in 2017, local school boards were expressing hostility toward charters with resolutions and resentment.

We’ve seen numerous examples of pure ideologically driven intolerance by local education officials related to parental school choice.

Chris Kolb, a member of the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) board since 2016, considers any support for empowering parents as part of the “state’s war on JCPS” and Louisville.

Kolb was forced out as vice chair of the JCPS school board after tweeting a vulgar response to state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, who simply asked whether the JCPS board had fully considered the “psychological and educational harm” of masking mandates on the district’s nearly 100,000 students.

Consider that Kolb will play an integral role in deciding whether to approve charter school applications in Kentucky’s largest school district. There’s no scenario I can imagine where applicants will have a semblance of a fair opportunity to open a charter school that can thrive and grow under board members with his attitude and biases.

In fact, the JCPS board has approved taking legal action against being required to authorize the other pilot charter school included in HB 9, which requires the school to open by July 1, 2023.

With tendentious board members in control, would these pilot charter schools be established only to fail should they eventually get up and running?

Another problem with HB 9 is that it doesn’t include a viable appeals process for applicants denied by biased boards with members like Kolb.

Add to this Education Commissioner Jason Glass’ caustic opposition to all forms of parentally controlled choice on full display since he was hired by the similarly-aligned, school-choice-opposing Kentucky Board of Education.

Thus, there’s serious concern about whether quality applicants will even apply to open charter schools in the Bluegrass State.

Why would potential charter creators pump resources into a doomed-to-fail effort when plenty of states have authorizers independent of the local bias, like four-year public universities, mayors’ offices and independently created commissions, to both authorize and hear appeals of charter school applicants?

Outside Kentucky, charter school growth is occurring rapidly, even exponentially, in states with multiple routes toward authorization. Among Kentucky’s neighbors, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio each have multiple authorizers and a legitimate appeals process, resulting in a total of 549 charter schools serving nearly 214,000 students last year.

According to the Center for Education Reform, “states with multiple chartering authorities have almost three and a half times more charter schools than states that only allow local school board approval,” and more than three-quarters of charter schools are in states with multiple authorizers.

Thus, evidence and experience confirm: adding more authorizers to Kentucky’s policy would help set charters and their applicants up for success rather than failure. And, kids who attend them would be the ultimate beneficiaries.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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