The State Journal (Frankfort, KY) recently published an op-ed authored by Chrissy Jones, Superintendent of Franklin County Public Schools. In the piece Supt. Jones shared her concerns about Rep. John Carney’s House Bill 520, the charter school bill currently making its way through the Kentucky General Assembly. With so much misinformation about the bill and public charter schools generally, I thought it would be helpful to her and educators and educational leaders across the state to address some of her concerns here.
- Supt. Jones said HB 520 would “allow the formation of charter schools” in fall 2017, and goes on to suggest that public charter schools could begin admitting students in fall 2017; but she is mistaken. HB 520 states, “Beginning in academic year 2017-2018, any authorizer may authorize an unlimited number of public charter schools within the boundary of the local school district“. That does not mean charter schools could open in fall 2017. It means charter school authorizers could begin receiving charter applications and authorizing (approving) charter schools during the 2017-2018 academic year. But even that application and approval process cannot begin until the Kentucky Board of Education promulgates regulations to guide the charter application process. The absolute earliest a Kentucky public charter school could begin serving students is fall 2018.
- Supt. Jones said that HB 520 would “require that public school districts either transport students to charter schools or lose a portion of their transportation funds to the charter school.” That language, however, is a mischaracterization of the requirements of the bill. HB 520 gives authorizing local school districts the option of retaining the transportation funds they receive for transporting students if they provide transportation for public charter school students who reside within the local school district’s boundaries. If a local school district chooses not to provide transportation for charter school students, it would be required to send to the charter school the transportation funds they receive for transporting those students. If local school districts will not transport students, public charter schools would be required to provided transportation to students who live within the school district. It only makes sense that transportation funds would follow students to whatever school district or school is actually providing transportation for the student.
- ,Finally, Supt. Jones expressed concern about public funds following students to public charter schools, and said that those funds have been “allocated for public schools”, but she is mistaken. First, if the funds in question were actually allocated for public schools all would be fine since charter schools are in fact public schools. But those funds are not allocated for public schools; they are allocated for students. State funding for public education is disbursed to districts for public school students. That’s why Franklin County Public Schools receives funding from the state based on the number and characteristics of the students the district serves. Public charter schools would be funded in the same manner.
No Kentucky public school or school district has a right to public education funding. Public dollars are allocated for the purpose of educating students at whatever public school their parents enroll them. Franklin County Public Schools has no more right to state education funds than Starbucks has a right to my coffee money. Starbucks gets my coffee money because I choose to purchase coffee there. If I choose to go to McDonald’s, Starbucks doesn’t get a cent from me. Imagine the absurdity of Starbucks arguing that regardless of whether I purchased their coffee, they have grown dependent on my daily $2 payment and thus should have a right to receive it. Starbucks wouldn’t make that claim because they know my $2 payment is tied to my continued patronage of their shops, which is dependent on the quality of my experience there and my satisfaction with their product. The same shall soon be the case in public education. Like private schools and public charter schools, traditional public schools must begin to come to terms with a new reality of having to compete to earn and maintain the patronage of families.
Public education dollars are for students, not school districts.
The Kentucky General Assembly is carefully considering passage of the state’s first charter school law, and some parts of the traditional public school establishment are in a state of panic. In that panic, lots of half-truths and misinformation are being spread. Here are 10 thing you need to know about public charter schools and House Bill 520, the bill that would bring charters to Kentucky.
- Kentuckians want additional public school options. Polling data from national and local groups including the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) show that the vast majority of Kentuckians are (a) supportive of public charter schools, and (b) want additional public school options for students in Kentucky.
- All charter schools are public schools. Public schools are public because they are open to the public, cannot charge tuition, are funded by tax dollars, and are accountable to the public. Just like traditional public schools, all charter schools meet these criteria. Charter school opponents like to argue that charter schools are not public because they are permitted to contact with private education management organizations (EMOs). What they fail to acknowledge, however, is that traditional public schools can and do contract with EMOs as well. In fact, the state education agency in MD and local public school districts across the U.S. have enjoyed successful contractual partnership with Edison Learning, Inc., a for-profit EMO. The MD State Department of Education contracted with Edison Learning to manage five persistently low performing schools in Baltimore. Similarly, the Peioria (IL) District 150 contracted with Edison Learning to provide school turnaround services over a five year period. Just as with public charters that contract for services, these schools in MD and IL remained public schools.
- Because public charter schools are schools of choice, no students would be assigned to them. If a parent likes the school her child attends, she would keep her child at that school. The only students who would attend public charter schools would be those students whose parents believe they would be better served at a public charter. If no students choose to attend the public charter school, the school would not receive public funding and would have to close.
- Parents don’t take their children out of schools that are serving their children well. School districts that are meeting the needs of their students have no reason to be fearful of public charter schools. It’s the rare parent who dis-enrolls her child from a school she and her child are happy with just to try something new. On the other hand, school districts that know they are failing to meet the needs of some or all of their students should be in a panic about the healthy competition public charter schools may bring to their communities.
- Public education funds are allocated for students; not for local school districts. The argument that charter schools will take funding away from traditional public schools makes no sense. Public education funds would continue to follow students to whatever public schools they attend, regardless of whether that school is a traditional public school or a public charter school. What is absurd is the argument that a local school district is entitled to public funds allocated for a child who no longer attends a school in that district.
- Public charter schools inject competition into public schooling, forcing local school districts to work harder to meet the needs of low income students. Local school districts have always had to compete to keep middle income students in their districts. Superintendents and school board members know that middle class parents dissatisfied with public schools will move to another school district or pay tuition for their children to attend a private or parochial school. But regardless of how dissatisfied low income parents are, school districts could typically count on the public dollars that follow low income students to their districts. Why? Because low income parents don’t often have the means to relocate to a school district that better meets the needs of their kids. Public charter schools give low income families additional public school options, forcing school districts to work harder to retain those students and their accompanying state and federal dollars in their districts.
- House Bill 520 would make local school boards the only charter school authorizers across most of the state. Only in Lexington and Louisville would mayors also be permitted to authorize and oversee public charter schools.
- Kentucky’s traditional public schools need lots of help meeting the learning needs of low income students and students of color. While Kentucky’s public schools have made tremendous progress since the early 1990s, the academic performance of these low income students across the state remains incredibly low. The approaches we have tried in the past and what we are currently doing is not meeting the learning needs of these students. It’s time to try some different approaches.
- House Bill 520 would hold public charter schools to higher standards of academic performance accountability than traditional public schools in Kentucky. In addition to public charter schools’ required participation in the state assessment and accountability system, Kentucky charters would be held accountable to performance standards articulated in their charter contracts. Charters that fail to meet or make significant progress toward meeting those goals could be shut down by their authorizer (local school boards or mayor’s offices in Louisville and Lexington only).
- Teachers unions’ opposition to public charter schools is about job security for adults, not what’s best for kids. No teachers would be assigned to or required to teach at public charter schools. The only teachers who would teach at a Kentucky charter are those who apply to teacher there. Still, groups like the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) oppose HB 520 because (a) Kentucky charter teachers would be less likely to be dues-paying members of KEA; (b) charter school teachers would be held to higher standards of performance accountability and could be terminated if they fail to meet performance standards; and (c) existing collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts would not apply to public charter school teachers.