The Case for Public Charter Schools in Kentucky (Part I)

Over the next few months I will devote my activity on the Education Policy Matters Blog to making the case for giving Kentucky parents additional public school options by passing state legislation to allow the creation of quality public charter schools. To date, 40 states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of charter school legislation. Kentucky is one of only 10 states that have not. The fact that most other states have already passed charter school legislation is not in itself a reason for Kentucky to do so now. Throughout history Kentucky has been a state that has charted its own course, and has been deliberate in education reform and decision making; a most admirable quality that I hope we never lose. However, the passage of good charter school legislation in Kentucky and the creation of quality public charter schools across the state would give us a powerful tool to be used in our education reform efforts. I will start today with just providing some basic information about what charter schools are and why I believe they have the potential to be helpful to us with education reform.

Charter School Basics

Charter schools are public schools. Let me say that again. Charter schools are public schools; all of them. They do not charge tuition. Any child may attend a charter school. In the event that applications for seats in charter schools are greater than the number of seats available, names are randomly drawn to determine what students will be admitted. The name “charter school” comes from the charters (contracts or agreements) that the schools have with the state to provide education for children. Charter schools receive funding in the same way that traditional public schools do; based on the number of children that attend them. No child is ever forced to attend a charter school. Charter schools are schools of choice. Parents must choose to enroll their child in a charter school. 

In most states charter schools are granted waivers from some district and state-level policies giving them greater autonomy than traditional public schools. In exchange for this autonomy charter schools are responsible for meeting or exceeding the academic achievement terms outlined in their respective charters. Charter schools that do not perform to the standards dictated in their charters may be closed. Again, charter schools that do not perform may be closed.

Charter Schools Provide Options for Parents

Charter schools provide additional school options for parents. I firmly believe that every parent should have public school options when deciding on a school for his/her child. No parent should be forced to send his or her child to a school that cannot adequately serve his/her child’s needs; yet hundreds of thousands of parents across the country and tens of thousands of parents right here in Kentucky are forced to do just that. Parental options in the form of magnet schools,  intradistrict and interdistrict public school choice, and charter schools all provide public school options for parents. I believe that as we work to improve our traditional public school systems we must also work to increase the availability of options for Kentucky parents both inside our traditional systems and outside. All parents deserve school options; regardless of their zip code, education level, income, or social capital. Quality public charter schools can be instrumental in giving parents across Kentucky access to public school options.

Over the next few months I will spend some time making the case for why public school options for parents are so important, debunking some of the myths about public charter schools, and discussing why public charter schools should be an integral part of education reform in Kentucky.