Kentucky Senate Hears Charter School Bill Today

This afternoon the Kentucky
Senate Education Committee holds a hearing for Sen. Mike Wilson’s (R-Bowling
Green) charter school bill (SB 211). I am attending the Annual Symposium of the
Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) in New Orleans today, so
unfortunately, I will not be able to testify. Testifying in support of the passage of strong charter
school legislation in Kentucky will be Dr. Terry Brook of Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA), Dr. Lisa Grover of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and
Dave Adkisson of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. I do regret that I am not
able to attend the hearing today, but I decided that I would send just a few
thoughts electronically on the importance of passing strong charter school
legislation in Kentucky.

For the last four years, I have
been working for the passage of legislation in Kentucky that would allow for
the creation of high quality public charter schools. I am not a Kentucky native, but I love Kentucky and it has become my home. I have been a part of this
fight for charter schools in our state because too many children in Kentucky don’t have access to high quality
schools simply because of where they live. In Kentucky, as in most places in
our country, living in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood and not
having the means to move to a higher performing school district or pay tuition
at a private or parochial school, often means your children are sentenced to
school that does not meet their academic needs. When talking about the fight
for charter schools in Kentucky, I always intentionally use the language “high
quality charter schools.” I do so because it is no secret that some states have
done a much better job of writing charter school legislation than others. Since
the passage of the nation’s first charter school legislation in Minnesota in
1991, we have learned a lot of charter school policy; and now having charter
school legislation in 42 states and the District of Columbia, Kentucky has the
exciting opportunity to take what we have learned about charter school policy
and incorporate that into a bill that would lead to additional high quality
public school options for some of Kentucky’s most economically disadvantaged
families. But the details of policy matter tremendously.

So, here are just a few things I
would like our legislators to keep in mind as they consider charter school
legislation for Kentucky. If charter school legislation is to result in the
creation of high quality public charter schools for our children, the following
elements MUST be a part of the bill:

  • ·        
    Charter school legislation must hold charter
    schools to high standards of accountability. That means opening a charter
    school in Kentucky can be no easy feat. Applicants for Kentucky charters must
    be heavily scrutinized, and only groups with extraordinary plans and
    exceptional expertise should be granted permission to open a charter school.
    Then, once a charter school is open, it must be held to high accountability
    standards; so high a standard in fact, that charter schools that do not perform
    to the levels of performance agreed upon in the charter will be closed down. In
    states where charter schools are working, that’s what’s happening. Charter
    schools that don’t perform are being closed. That’s the way charter schools are
    supposed to work. Charter schools are to be provided with a greater degree of
    flexibility and autonomy in exchange for higher expectations for performance.
  • ·        
    There must be multiple authorizers for Kentucky
    charter schools. Limiting authorization for charter schools to local boards of
    education would ensure that charter schools never get off the ground in
    Kentucky. Most local board of education will be resistant to authorizing a
    public charter school in its vicinity. Parents that are unhappy with the
    quality of education their children are receiving in a traditional public
    school will look for alternative high quality public school options. If that
    parent resides in Jefferson County and there is a public charter school option
    that meets the needs of her child, she will enroll her child in the charter
    school. Jefferson County will see that as dollars walking out the door. I see
    that as empowering parents to make decisions about the quality of education
    their children receive. School districts should not see SEEK dollars as
    belonging to the school district. SEEK dollars follow children to whatever
    public school they attend. SEEK dollars are for children, not for school
    districts. I hope Kentucky legislators think of SEEK dollars in the same way that I
    do. It is no secret
    that local boards of education in Kentucky have not been supportive of charter
    school legislation. Passing charter school legislation but then giving complete
    authority to local boards to authorize charter schools only sets the policy up
    to fail.
  • ·        
    Kentucky charter schools must be freed from
    constraints of collective bargaining agreements. The collective bargaining
    agreement in Jefferson County constrains schools leaders in ways that inhibit
    school improvement. If you don’t believe me, engage a Jefferson County Public Schools
    principal in a closed door, off the record conversation, and ask her to list
    the ways the JCTA contract gets in the way of her doing what is best for
    children in her school. She will probably start with all the ways the JCTA
    contract constrains her ability to select, develop, and evaluate staff at her
    school. The JCTA contract is a problem; it does not put children first.
    Requiring Kentucky charter schools to comply with the terms of the JCTA contract
    would tie the arms of Kentucky charter school leaders in unreasonable and unproductive
    ways.
  • ·        
    Charter school legislation in Kentucky must
    allow for both start-up charter schools and conversion charter schools. In
    other words, the bill must allow for a group of parents, teachers, community
    member to apply to start a charter school from the ground up, as well as allow
    for the conversion of existing traditional public schools into charter schools.
    While there has been some success across the country with conversion charter
    schools, the research is clear that many of the highest performing charters of
    those that have been created from scratch.