FRANKFORT (AP) — Republican lawmakers are taking aim at Kentucky’s public education system, scheduling votes on bills to repeal Common Core standards and create public charter schools that would operate outside state supervision.
Kentucky was the first state in the country to adopt the Common Core educational standards, a movement started by the National Governors Association that became a Republican punching bag after its embrace by the Obama administration. And Kentucky has been one of the last states to ban charter schools that get state funding but are governed by an independent board of directors.
Both bills have been GOP priorities for years, but this legislative session is the first either has had a chance of passing, now that Republicans are firmly in control of state government.
The charter schools bill pits the new GOP leadership against public school teachers and administrators. Both sides have pointed to “achievement gaps” between students based on race and income, with opponents saying the bill would simply siphon money from already underfunded public schools.
“If charter schools were the answers to student achievement gaps, the professionals working and trained to teach children would be advocating for them, too, in droves,” said Stephanie Winkler, a fourth-grade teacher in Madison County who is on leave to serve as president of the Kentucky Education Association.
Republicans say it would give parents and students more options and force public schools to improve in order to retain students.
“They are afraid of being held to account. They are afraid of offering better choices. It might demand something of them,” Republican Gov. Matt Bevin told lawmakers during a Senate Education Committee meeting.
House Bill 520 would let nonprofits or groups of parents and teachers set up a charter school. The local school board would have to approve it. Rejection could be appealed to the state Board of Education, appointed by the governor. The bill also would enable the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to authorize charter schools in their cities.
The bill has already passed the House, and the Senate scheduled a vote for Wednesday afternoon after making some changes.
The Senate version clarifies that all charter school teachers must be certified by the state’s Educational Professional Standards Board. It allows for traditional public schools to be converted to a charter school if at least 60 percent of the parents sign a petition and the school ranks in the lowest 5 percent in performance. Schools not in the lowest 5 percent would have to get permission from the local school board, a decision that could not be appealed.
While the bill requires charter schools to give enrollment preferences to siblings and children of school employees, it only says schools are encouraged to give preference to students in poverty or at risk of academic failure.
“The charter school comes in takes the best and brightest and leaves your public schools with those hard to teach students. That’s not a prescription for success,” Democratic state Sen. Reggie Thomas said.
But Republican Sen. David Givens said forcing charter schools to accept only high-risk students would be too restrictive. He pointed out that, the way the school’s funding formula is constructed, special needs students and those who qualify for free or reduced lunch get more money from the state.
“There is a financial incentive to target those typically adverse populations,” he said.