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Legislation funds, adds authorizers for public charter schools

Editor’s Note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being published by newspapers statewide.

Five years after Kentucky’s General Assembly passed legislation allowing public charter schools, a bill filed by House Majority Whip Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, could finally allow some to open in the Bluegrass State.

House Bill 9 builds on the framework created by the late Majority Leader Rep. John “Bam” Carney, who led the effort to get legislation passed in 2017 that not only allowed charters throughout the Bluegrass State but also insisted on strong oversight of these publicly funded schools of choice which, like their conventional counterparts, are free to all students.

Charters also have freedom from rules and regulations that can hinder educators in traditional public schools.

These innovative public schools have their own boards and often focus on particular areas like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs, career readiness or the arts.

Setting these schools and their students up for success means empowering charter boards to assemble teams of administrators and teachers who best fit their schools’ focus.

In exchange for such flexibility, charters in their agreements with authorizers specify how their schools will be organized and managed, what students will achieve and how that success will be measured.

As with the 2017 legislation, HB 9 appropriately requires failing charter schools to be held accountable, including the possibility of being shut down.

However, the bill also rightly expands the length of charter contracts to at least five years.

This matters because charters often enroll children who fall behind in conventional public schools, so they must be given adequate, but reasonably limited, time to help students turn their academic performance around.

Based on what’s happening in many of the 44 states and Washington, D.C., which have had robust charter policies for several years, poor children in Kentucky will benefit the most from McCoy’s bill.

Pennsylvania’s education department, for example, reports that 65% of the Keystone State’s 170,000 charter school students are minority and low-income.

Giving these at-risk students, who disproportionately attend lower-performing conventional public schools, an opportunity to enroll in quality charters will also likely help close longstanding academic achievement gaps.

HB 9 builds out the 2017 legislation in three important ways:

  • While some federal dollars and other revenue sources are available for charters, their primary source of funding will flow from SEEK funding – the state revenue stream for each public school student in the commonwealth.

SEEK monies doled out by Frankfort in differing amounts for counties based on a complicated funding formula will follow students to any charter school they choose to attend, even if it’s not in the district in which they live.

However, local property tax dollars will only follow students who attend charters in their resident districts.

Additional dollars will be provided by the state for charters providing transportation for their students.

  • The new bill expands authorizers beyond local school boards and the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) to allow public and accredited non-public four-year universities to choose to authorize charters.

Authorizers also include the mayors of Louisville and Lexington, nonprofit organizations approved by the KBE and a new statewide commission whose members are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Kentucky Senate.

Allowing more authorizers lessens the possibility that committed applicants with stellar plans for quality charter schools will get turned down by local school board members with inherent biases against any and all alternatives for parents – no matter how solid those submissions.

  • Although HB 9 allows for new charter schools anywhere in the state, applications in districts with fewer than 5,000 students must include a Memorandum of Agreement from the local school board to be considered.

The thoughtful and comprehensive approach taken by McCoy and those who’ve worked with him in a politically challenging environment for school choice is, no doubt, receiving a thumbs up and a “well done” from ‘The Beyond’ by a lawmaker who was passionate about policy that best serves the youngest – and often neediest – among us.

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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