- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A charter schools bill remained stuck in committee as Kentucky lawmakers reached the two-thirds mark of their legislative session Tuesday, but the highly anticipated measure backed by Gov. Matt Bevin could start advancing later this week.

House Education Committee Chairman John “Bam” Carney said his bill paving the way for public charter schools to open in Kentucky could be heard by his committee on Thursday. The Campbellsville Republican said he’s still working on possible changes to the measure.

Carney acknowledged time is running short to start moving the measure.

“If it’s going to come up, that would probably be the time … because of the clock,” he said.

Carney said he’s optimistic about the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, but acknowledged the bill has drawn “fairly strong” pushback from some in education.

“It’s human nature to try to protect your turf and your interests,” he said. “I would just challenge folks to be open to the idea that these are public schools also and any public teacher would be able to work in one of these. I think that pushback is more out of fear than reality.”

His bill took a procedural step forward Monday when the House gave the measure its first reading and then returned it to the House Education Committee.

Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie J. Winkler said her organization opposes charter schools legislation. Public charters - which are publicly funded but run by private groups - would drain “already scarce” tax dollars from traditional public schools, she said.

“It’s just not what’s best for kids,” she said.

In past years, bills called for charter schools to be introduced as pilot projects. Carney’s bill would open up the opportunity for public charters statewide. Winkler said if lawmakers are determined to allow charters, it should be on a limited, pilot basis at the outset.

“We’d like it to be something that if it doesn’t work, that they’re stopped,” she said. “To continue charter schools just for the sake of having charter schools is not what’s good for kids.”

Prospects for charter school legislation improved dramatically when the GOP took control of the House after last year’s elections. In the past, charter schools bills died due to lack of House support when Democrats ran the chamber. The Senate is solidly controlled by Republicans.

Under Carney’s bill, public charters could be exempt from some state education regulations but would comply with the same testing, safety, finance and transparency regulations as other public schools, he said.

Charter school teachers would face the same certification standards as teachers elsewhere, he said. Enrollment preferences could be given to students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and students attending persistently low-achieving schools.

Applications to open public charters would go to the local school boards for review and approval. If local boards denied the request, there would be an appeal process to the state school board. Ultimately, the state board could direct the local district to allow the charter to open.

Public charters would be governed by independent boards of directors.

If Carney’s bill becomes law, Kentucky would become the 44th state nationally to allow public charter schools, according to the Kentucky Charter School Project, an advocacy group.

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The legislation is House Bill 520.

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