- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Charter schools advocates won the first round Friday when the Kentucky Senate passed a bill aimed at allowing the schools to open on a limited basis in the state’s two most populous counties.

Their chances of making progress may be insurmountable in the state House.

The Republican-run Senate voted 23-12 to pass a proposed pilot program that would allow up to five charter schools in both Jefferson and Fayette counties over a five-year period.

Supporters of the Senate-passed bill said the goal is to close student achievement gaps in Louisville and Lexington by gearing the charter schools toward poor and minority children.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo flatly predicted the bill won’t go far in the Democratic-led chamber. The Prestonsburg Democrat downplayed the potential of charter schools.

“I’ve never seen evidence they’ve worked, except in limited instances where a corporation funnels money into it,” Stumbo said Friday.

House Education Committee Chairman Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said he is working on alternative legislation aimed at dealing with student achievement gaps.

Republican Sen. Mike Wilson of Bowling Green, the bill’s lead sponsor, said charter schools are a worthwhile experiment for students in chronically struggling schools.

The bill drew solid opposition from Senate Democrats. Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones II, D-Pikeville, raised funding and oversight concerns.

“Given the lack of funding that we have in our public schools, it would be irresponsible to create a system of charter schools that would siphon much-needed resources from our public schools,” he said.

Jones said charter schools have had mixed results nationally. While some have outperformed other schools, other charter schools have underachieved, he said.

Some Republican lawmakers have pushed for charter schools for several years. The issue also has come up in this year’s race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Kentucky is one of eight states that don’t have charter school laws, Wilson said.

Under the Senate-passed bill, charter schools would be staffed by certified teachers. The state auditor could review their use of public funds. The schools would be funded on a per-pupil basis out of state money.

The schools would be accountable to a charter authority, and the schools could be closed if they failed to meet their accountability goals.

On the House side, Graham said legislation is being prepared to tackle student achievement gaps.

The legislation would aim to give local school boards and superintendents more flexibility in dealing with underachieving schools, he said. That would include working with teachers, parents and other stakeholders, he said.


The charter school legislation is Senate Bill 8.

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