- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

A key committee chairman introduced legislation Friday that would pave the way for public charter schools to open in Kentucky, as advocates for greater school choice begin their latest push in a more receptive legislature now under Republican control.

The bill sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman John “Bam” Carney would allow charter schools statewide, unlike some past versions that were limited to pilot projects. Carney said he plans to have his bill heard in committee next week.

Charter school supporters include Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. 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 state Senate is also solidly controlled by Republicans.

Carney, a Campbellsville Republican, said Friday he wants to open up the opportunity for public charter schools statewide, but cautioned that he thinks it would be a good thing if the charter school introductions started slowly.

“I think we need to take small steps at this venture,” Carney said in a phone interview. “I would like to see a few start early and make sure we’re getting them done right and make sure they’re properly functioning and then expand from there.”



Ultimately, the popularity of charter schools would be driven by “public demand, how successful they are and what parents want for their children,” said Carney, a public school administrator who spent 15 years teaching social studies in public middle and high schools.

Under his bill, public charters - which are publicly funded but run by private groups - could be exempt from some state education regulations but would have to 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. 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 the 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.

“I believe that traditional public schools will always be … the major source of education in Kentucky,” Carney said. “But I also think there’s a percentage of our students who need a different environment, something that meets their needs. And I think public charters would allow that.”

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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