As chair of the Kentucky Board of Education and a 31-year veteran of Kentucky public schools, I am extremely disappointed with House Bill (HB) 9 and its slim passage by the House of Representatives today.
I have served as a teacher, high school administrator, superintendent of Jessamine County Schools and chief academic officer of Fayette County Schools. Currently I teach aspiring principals and superintendents at the university level. Based on my experience as a proud Kentucky educator, I am keenly aware of the long and deep tradition of local control over Kentucky schools under the leadership of locally elected school boards, who exercise authority over local tax revenues.
We cannot and must not allow for-profit, out-of-state charter management companies to syphon local tax revenues away from those same locally elected school boards without their approval. Doing so further erodes local control and further shifts our focus away from fully funding Kentucky public schools.
Instead, I am urging the General Assembly to live up to its promise to fully fund full-day kindergarten across the Commonwealth, codify full-day kindergarten into law and fully fund pupil transportation.
Currently, local school districts are desperately leveraging all available funds to address serious staffing shortages, rising costs due to inflation, and the social, emotional and learning challenges our students face in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The 2022 legislative priorities of the Kentucky Board of Education include our opposition to any efforts to direct tax revenues away from our local public schools. These funds are better spent on improving public education and better serving all Kentucky kids, rather than a self-selected subset of students.
In addition to these broad concepts, there are some serious deficiencies in the legislation itself.
I fear HB 9 does not represent the collective lessons learned from other states that have established charter school authorization and approval standards, leaving us destined to repeat the mistakes that could and should be avoided. I also worry that this piece of legislation will lead to approval and authorization processes that are simultaneously weak and ambiguous.
HB 9 represents a dramatic shift for public education in the Commonwealth and such a shift must not be undertaken lightly or hurriedly. We recently experienced success when we rolled up our sleeves and worked together on teacher pension reform. Let’s take a similar, measured approach to charters.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) recognizes the vital role that charter school authorizers play in the establishment of high-quality charters and, to that end, have promoted 12 essential practices as a set of minimum expectations for authorizers. When held up against these essential practices, HB 9 fails or performs poorly against all 12, leaving Kentucky vulnerable to bad actors that include for-profit, unscrupulous charter school operators who benefit from manipulating the system for their own gain.
Not long ago, Kentucky and many other states suffered from similar short-sightedness when it came to for-profit, postsecondary providers. Why would we believe that for-profit P12 models would fare any better? Why would we move forward without clear expectations of quality assurance?
As we witnessed today, paving the way for charter schools in Kentucky is a high priority for some in the General Assembly, but not for all. With the quick, divided passage of HB 9 in committee and then the 51-46 vote in the House, I implore our lawmakers in the Kentucky Senate, as a practical matter, to slow down.
I ask you to ensure quality control on the front end by including your educational partners and experts like the state Board of Education, the Kentucky Department of Education and other education organizations as valued and respected partners in the process.
We have an opportunity to frame new legislation designed to ensure high-quality standards and set a high bar for the authorization and execution of charter schools in the Commonwealth without further disenfranchising public school leaders and undermining support for our Kentucky public schools.
Referring to charter schools, the bill’s sponsor noted that “there are good ones and there are bad ones.” So let’s do everything we can to develop thoughtful legislation that mitigates the risk of exposing any Kentucky student to a bad charter school experience.
Instead, I urge our legislators to work with Kentucky’s professional educational experts to reach consensus about the future of charter school legislation and to redouble their efforts to strengthen our public schools, thereby building better communities and a stronger workforce that will sustain us for many years to come.