Legislation aimed at opening charter schools in the Commonwealth cleared the House and is on its way to the Senate following an unusual process in which the Kentucky General Assembly sought to expedite its approval.
House Bill (HB) 9 passed the House on Tuesday on a 51-46 vote. The bill had been expected to be heard in the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee on Thursday, but was removed from the committee’s agenda at the last minute. Late Monday night, the General Assembly then reworked membership of the House Education committee, where it was narrowly approved.
“This is not good process,” said Rep. Lisa Willner (Louisville). “We were elected to represent our constituents. Some bills are meant to not pass out of committee because they’re not ready yet. For the gamesmanship that has gone on to get a ‘Yes’ vote and get this out of committee, this is not good democratic process. This is not good governance. This is not transparency.”
The bill then went on to pass the full House.
Following the vote, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass said the bill was a rushed piece of school choice legislation that stands a good chance of making the education landscape even more challenging for students and families in Kentucky.
“Rather than taking the time to learn the important lessons of states around the country who made mistakes with their charter school laws and policies, HB 9 seems intent on repeating them,” he said. “Rather than ensuring that quality standards are in place for charter schools and their authorizers, this bill creates a vacuous space ripe for corruption and graft.
“Opening charter schools in Kentucky represents a seismic shift in school governance and operations. I urge the legislature to slow down and do this right and stop rushing through a fundamentally badly constructed bill,” Glass added.
Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu Young, a 31-year veteran of Kentucky public schools, signed up to testify against the bill, but the House Education committee ran out of time before she was able to do so.
After the meeting, Young echoed Glass’ concerns, stating, “We cannot and must not allow for-profit, out-of-state charter management companies to siphon local tax revenues away from those same locally elected school boards without their approval.”
Young said she understands that paving the way for charter schools in Kentucky is a high priority for some in the General Assembly, but she called on legislators to slow down the process and include the Kentucky Board of Education, the Kentucky Department of Education and other education partners in the framing of new charter school legislation.
“We experienced success when we rolled up our sleeves and worked together on teacher pension reform,” she said. “Let’s take a similar, measured approach to charters. Please do not bargain with the well-being and best interests of our 5-year-olds by withholding critical funding for their education. It is an unfair and uncharitable proposition.
“Instead, I urge you to work with Kentucky’s professional educational experts to reach consensus about the future of charter school legislation, to redouble your efforts to strengthen our public schools and, in turn, build better communities and a stronger workforce that will sustain us for many years to come.”
Senate Bill 9
Meanwhile, the Senate unanimously concurred with the changes the House made to Senate Bill (SB) 9, sending the bill to the Governor for action. The bill allows for the existing Read to Achieve grant to be fully funded, while also providing for the Read to Succeed fund to promote high-quality reading instruction and intervention services across the Commonwealth to support all of Kentucky’s youngest readers. Research indicates that students not reading proficiently by the end of grade 3 are four times more likely to not finish high school. According to K-PREP data, Kentucky has lost ground in third grade reading in recent years.
In 2019, fewer students scored proficient or higher on third grade reading than in 2016-2017. In 2019, approximately 50 percent of third graders scored proficient or higher in reading. The unfinished learning resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic further contributes to students’ accelerated learning needs in reading. The Kentucky Read to Succeed Act includes specific policy changes that can be made now in a long-term effort to improve learning outcomes for all students, which the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) supports.
Senate Bill 1
Also passed by the House on Tuesday was Senate Bill (SB) 1, which moves the principal selection and curriculum decisions to a district’s superintendent.
SB1 also now includes Senate Bill (SB) 138, the Teaching American Principles Act, which amends KRS 158.183 to require a public school to provide instruction that is consistent with designated concepts related to race, sex and religion, and provides that nothing in the bill shall be construed to restrict impartial historical instruction.
The bill also calls on the Kentucky Department of Education to incorporate fundamental American documents and speeches into the grade-level appropriate middle and high school social studies academic standards.
Because of the changes, SB1 now goes back to the full Senate for concurrence.
Other bills that were passed during Tuesday’s House Education committee include:
- SB 60, which amends KRS 157.3175 to remove the requirement that a preschool program proposal include a certification from a Head Start director that the Head Start program is fully utilized; and
- SB 163, which amends KRS 164.740 to delete the definition of “penal institution,” amends KRS 164.7874 to delete the requirement that an eligible high school student and eligible postsecondary student not be a convicted felon for Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship (KEES) eligibility purposes, and repeals KRS 164.767 relating to restrictions on financial aid to incarcerated persons.