Some misconceptions about charter schools

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FROM the HOUSE/By State Rep. Dan Johnson

 As many of you know, in this past legislative session, we have taken significant action to reform education in Kentucky.

Regardless of all of the hyperbole, our reforms will go a long way in providing better educational opportunities for some of the students in our state who so desperately need it.

The Governor recently signed House Bill 520 into law, making Kentucky the 44th state to allow for the establishment of charter schools.

While we have well-performing schools right here in Bullitt County, and in many other parts of the state, that unfortunately is not the case everywhere.

In Jefferson and Fayette counties, many schools consistently fail to meet academic benchmarks.

Far too many students, in predominantly urban areas, are not being properly served by our schools. 

Students are somehow receiving high school diplomas without being able to read and write on grade level. 

Further, many of these students are from low-income areas, and come from family situations that make a valuable education vital. 

Providing an education alternative in the form of charter schools is an idea that both parties have agreed on.

None other than former President Barack Obama has long supported the idea of charters, as has Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, recently.

An openness to charter schools from the mayors of Kentucky’s largest cities led to us making them an authorizer for charter schools in their districts, so that they can best serve their students.

There are many misconceptions going around about charter schools.

For example, many were concerned about how exactly these schools will be funded, and there was much discussion about our public schools losing funding.

Public charter schools will be funded the same as our traditional public schools: the dollars follow the student, so long as they go to school within the district. 

This does not include certain funding streams our traditional schools enjoy, such as local capital outlay and recurring debt service.

Transportation funding remains with the district, unless the district opts to not provide transportation to public charter school students. Further, local school districts that establish charters, or mayors in the case of Louisville and Lexington, would keep 3 percent of the charter’s state funding as an authorizer fee. 

Thanks to input from all sides, strong protections were put into the bill for local school districts. 

School districts without charter schools will not be financially affected, regardless of what you may hear.

Dollars cannot follow students out of their school district, and virtual schools are not permitted. 

Finally, this bill puts decision-making authority in the hands of those it belongs to: local officials. HB 520 gives local school boards the authority to authorize a charter school, as well as the mayors of Louisville and Lexington.

A school board can deny the application for a charter, if they feel like it would not serve their district. 

However, the applicant could appeal to the state board, so that an extra set of eyes could affirm or reverse the decision.

A good education is key to providing more economic opportunity for the next generation.

I heavily value our public schools, and the hardworking teachers who make them successful. 

But many students across our state are not as fortunate as Bullitt County students are, and are in dire need of assistance.

For that reason, which Republicans and Democrats alike should agree on, I cast a yes vote to establish public charter schools in Kentucky.

Johnson  represents the 49th district, which includes part of Bullitt County. Contact him with any questions, concerns, or advice. He can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or via e-mail at Dan.Johnson@lrc.ky.gov.