I run into friends and colleagues quite often (in Kentucky) who are surprised when I tell them that there is still no law allowing for the creation of charter schools in Kentucky. I would say their surprise is warranted given that 47 states and the District of Columbia now have some form of charter school legislation. So today’s post is for my fellow Kentuckians; those friends and colleagues that after finding that we have no law, ask me why not. The truth my friends is that teacher unions’ money and Kentuckians’ contentment with our schools have stopped us from passing a charter school law.
- Believe it or not, Kentuckians are pretty pleased with the outcomes of our education system. In fact, some of us think our state’s schools are pretty darn good!! And maybe they are; the new Quality Counts rankings in Edweek came out just today and Kentucky ranked #14 in the nation! Out of sight!! Never mind the enormous, shameful achievement gaps that have persisted for generations in schools all across Kentucky; or that there are schools in parts of our state that should be shut down and never reopened; or that only a small fraction of our high school graduates leave high school prepared for the rigors of college. If you can just get past those little things, we’re really doing a hell of a job in Kentucky! And who would have thought it? I know I had no idea. It is truly the best kept secret in America. But probably not for long; with the release of the Quality Counts rankings we are likely to have a hard time keeping parents from Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee from sneaking across the state line to get their kids into our Kentucky schools.
- Kentucky’s teacher unions/professional associations have lots of Democrat legislators under their thumb. These organizations heavily fund the campaigns of many Democrat legislators. The unions pretend that they oppose charter schools on the grounds that charters will be detrimental to Kentucky children, but in reality they oppose charter schools because they would threaten the job security of ineffective teachers. Can’t have that, now can we!! So they persuade/bully Democrat leaders in the Kentucky legislature to oppose even open and honest conversations about the issue; and they spread lies to their members (teachers) and to the public about charter schools. And are these legislators willing to stand up to the unions, their campaign funders, and say that we must have an open and honest dialogue about charter schools? Of course they are not. Why not? Because their next election is just around the corner, and they can’t count on the parents of children in failing schools to fund their campaigns.
The political landscape in Kentucky is pretty complicated for sure. I don’t mean to trivialize or oversimplify the issue, but the simple reality is that Kentucky has no charter school law because Kentuckians are pretty content with the schools we have, and the very well funded teacher unions/professional associations do a great job of keeping the Democrats in the legislature in line. Until one or both of those realities change, there will be no charter schools in Kentucky.
This afternoon the Center for American Progress sponsored a forum to discuss the future of community schools reforms and school-community partnerships. Among the participants were former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, House of Representatives Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, and American Federation of Teacher president Randi Weingarten. The conversation centered around a reinvigorated effort to recreate America’s public schools as community schools, in particular those schools that serve lower-middle and lower income students. Forum participants agreed that the current model of public schools does not effectively serve large segments of American students. They called for a reconceptualization of public schools as community hubs; places where a community’s resources could be organized around student success.
Current legislative initiatives to support community schools reform include Rep. Steny Hoyer and Sen. Ben Nelson’s Full Service Community Schools Act, H.R. 3545 and S. 1655
. This legislation proposes the authorization of $200 million per year over five years to provide grants for partnerships between school districts and community-based organizations. Additionally, the US Department of Education has requested $10 million for fiscal year 2010 to provide “Promise Neighborhoods”
grants. These competitive 1-year awards would go to non-profit, community-based organizations “to support the development of plans for comprehensive neighborhood programs, modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, designed to combat the effects of poverty and improve education and life outcomes for children, from birth through college” (US Department of Education, 2009
Great Britain has led the way in reconceptualizing public schools as community schools. The UK is on track for all of its public schools to offer extended hours and provide extended services by 2010. The Obama administration, legislators, and teachers unions appear to be extremely supportive of efforts advance the community schools model in US public schools. The current legislative initiatives have the potential of providing incentives that can stimulate schools and communities to co-plan, coordinate, and collaborate; but it will be local schools and districts, families, and communities that determine whether or not the goals of these initiatives are achieved.