Marty Solomon’s Misleading Op-Ed on Charter Schools in Kentucky

I was quite disappointed to read Marty Solomon’s op-ed
published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday June 2nd. Dr. Solomon made
the argument that charter schools would be bad for Kentucky and in his words, “Our
legislature is wise to continue to reject their creation and to refuse to
weaken our public schools.” I do hope that Dr. Solomon’s intentions were good,
and that he, like me, wants to see improvement in learning for children in
Kentucky. I don’t have reason to believe otherwise. But regardless of his
intentions, there are quite a few problems with the argument he puts forward
for keeping charter schools out of Kentucky. The obvious difference between our
positions is that I support the passage of legislation in Kentucky to allow for
the creation of high quality public charter schools. But it is not our
difference in position on charter schools that troubles me; what troubles me is
the inaccuracies and myths he puts forward which only serve to mislead

Dr. Solomon’s op-ed is ripe with inaccuracies and
over-generalizations. I will identify and discuss a few here which I believe are
most problematic. First, and most disappointing, he seeks to mislead
Kentuckians into believing that charter schools are not public schools, when in
fact there is no credible argument against the fact that charter schools are in
fact public schools. In Dr. Solomon’s words:

Although advocates
like to call them public schools because they receive public funding, charters
are really private schools, run by private individuals or corporations. They
are completely outside the public school system as far as teacher requirements
or acceptance of handicapped kids.

If charter schools were not public schools there is no way 42
states would be allowed to allocate state and federal funds to public charter
schools in the same way funds are allocated to traditional public schools. In
the city of New Orleans, approximately 90% of children attend public charter
schools. Does that mean the vast majority of children in New Orleans now attend
private schools? Of course not. While variation exists in state charter school
laws, across the states, all charter schools are public schools.

I find Dr. Solomon’s misleading of Kentuckians in this fashion to be
unfortunate. And the argument that charter schools in Kentucky would be outside the public school system regarding
teacher requirements or the provision of services for children with special
needs is flat out not true. Any reading of the charter school legislation that has been put forward in Kentucky shows his statements to be untrue. To read Rep. Brad
Montell’s (R-Shelbyville) charter school bill filed in the 2014 session of the Kentucky legislature please click

Also in a particularly misleading fashion, Dr. Solomon makes
the argument that charter schools in Kentucky would take funding away from
traditional public schools. In his words:

But they are funded by
taking money from public schools. This idea was quite attractive to many state
legislators who eschewed tax hikes to fund vouchers, but did not object to
taking the money away from public schools.

What Dr. Solomon fails to say to the reader, however, is that
since charter schools are public schools, charter schools in Kentucky would be
funded in the same way every other public school is funded; charter schools
would receive a per pupil allocation based on the number of students that
attend the school. What he further fails to relay is that the only students who
would attend charter schools are those whose parents enroll them in one. The
commonwealth allocates state funding to schools based on the number of students
attending a school. If a parent decided to take her child out of Henry Clay
High School and enroll him in the charter school of her choice, the funding for
that student would follow him to the charter school. Please note that the
arrangement I speak of is no different than a child leaving Henry Clay High
School and enrolling in East Jessamine High School; the state funding for the
student would follow the student to East Jessamine. In that instance, would Dr.
Solomon argue that East Jessamine has weakened Henry Clay by robbing it of
funding? He most likely would not. Or what if a parent decided to take his
daughter out of Henry Clay and enroll her in The Lexington School. While The
Lexington School would not receive state funding for the student, those funds would surely no longer be allocated to Fayette
County. In that case, would Dr. Solomon argue that the Lexington School is
responsible for weakening Fayette County Public Schools? He most likely would
not, and he should not. Whether a child leaves Henry Clay to attend East
Jessamine, The Lexington School, or a public charter school, what has happened
is a parent made a decision to send her child to a school that she believes
best serves his needs. Would Dr. Solomon then argue that the parent is
responsible for weakening Fayette County Public Schools? I don’t know whether
he would or not, but I certainly don’t see it that way. I find the suggestion
that a school should receive state-funding for a student who no longer attends
the school to be pretty ludicrous. And I find it even more problematic that a
traditional public school would want to hold students hostage if their parents
want to enroll them somewhere else.

I would like to see opponents of charter school legislation
in Kentucky state their opposition to charter schools with honesty instead of
putting forward arguments and myths intended to mislead Kentuckians who only
truly care about getting the best possible education for their children. The
truth is that charter school laws vary significantly from state to state. Some
states have charter school laws that have produced high quality public charter
school options for families. Other states have not written thoughtful charter
school laws, and the result of those poorly crafted laws has been charter
schools that perform at or below the levels of traditional public schools,
serious deficiencies in charter school performance monitoring and
accountability. Because Kentucky has yet to pass a charter school law,
lawmakers have the benefit of learning from the successes and failures of other
states. I believe Rep. Brad Montell’s charter school bill incorporates many of
the lessons that we have learned since the passage of the nation’s first charter
school legislation in 1991 in Minnesota. The stakes are too high for too many
children in Kentucky to continue with these political games. Let’s base our
conversation on the charter school law that is actually being proposed in

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