Kentucky charter school problem revived in new school choice bill

On the last day to introduce bills in the Kentucky House, Republican leaders have decided to give school choice legislation another chance for the 2022 session.

House Bill 9, sponsored by Majority Whip Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, would make a series of changes to the state’s public charter school law and potentially expand education opportunity accounts to cover tuition for private schools statewide .

Among the most significant changes, HB 9 creates a permanent funding mechanism for charter schools. Like traditional public schools, public charter schools would receive funding based on student attendance from a mix of local and state tax dollars.

Charter schools have been legal in Kentucky since 2017, but none have been established because the legislature has failed to provide a permanent source of funding. The one charter school that attempted to open was turned down, in part, due to lack of funding.

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The bill would also create a state agency called the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission with “statewide jurisdiction to license high-quality public charter schools that provide more options for students to earn a thorough and effective education”.

The commission would consist of seven people – the state commissioner of education or his delegate and six members appointed by the governor.

Appointed members must live in Kentucky, have relevant experience, and “have declared a commitment to charter education as an effective strategy to strengthen public education.”

The bill would expand who an authorizer could be, who has the power to approve or deny new charters and oversee charter schools.

Previously, local school boards and the mayors of Louisville and Lexington had the authority to license charter schools. Under HB 9, public and private universities, the Kentucky Board of Education, and some nonprofit organizations would be eligible, along with the new commission.

Groups interested in opening a charter school, which are publicly funded but privately operated, would apply to an authorizer. Those whose charter school applications are denied can appeal to either the Kentucky Board of Education or the new board, rather than the KBE.

When reviewing a denial appeal, the two entities would have to consider whether the decision was “contrary to the best interests of the students or the community.”

McCoy guided last year’s Education Opportunity Account measure through the slimmest of margins to become law over a veto from Governor Andy Beshear.

A few months later, the new law was challenged in court, where it was later struck down by a judge. The lawsuit is now before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Context:What are Education Opportunity Accounts?

In his ruling, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that the law’s provision allowing the use of EOAs for private school tuition only in the largest counties was illegal.

HB 9 responds to this, saying that if a judge rules against the provision, it will automatically expand to cover all counties. This article is labeled as an emergency, so it will take effect immediately after it becomes effective. The rest of the bill would not come into force immediately.

The judge’s decision did not hamper Republican efforts to expand the EOA program. Similar bills introduced earlier this year in both houses would increase the income threshold for families to participate and allow funds to cover private school tuition in all counties.

This story will be updated.

Contact Olivia Krauth at [email protected] and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth.

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