Support shown for charter-like reforms

By Katheran Wasson Published:

Rep. Carl Rollins pitched his “districts of innovation” bill to local school board members Monday, just hours before his House Education Committee was to host a hearing about allowing charter schools in Kentucky.

House Bill 37 – the innovation legislation – would allow school districts to sidestep certain state regulations that govern Kentucky’s public schools with approval from state education officials. 

Rollins, a Midway Democrat, said the bill would let educators try charter-like reforms without siphoning funding from existing public schools. It cleared the House unanimously last week.

“I think charter schools are a bad idea, but I want to find a way to let districts take one school or all of their schools or part of a school and create an innovative way to educate those children,” he told board members of Frankfort Independent Schools Monday.

He gave credit to former Franklin County Magistrate Don Sturgeon, a retired teacher, for sparking the idea for the legislation.

“He looked at me one day and said, ‘We need a bill to just allow teachers to do their jobs,’” Rollins said. “So this is how we got to that.”

Rollins said he’s against charter schools because they lack oversight, take resources from public schools and snub kids with learning disabilities or behavior problems.

Proponents of charter schools “cherry pick” studies to support their argument, he said.

“Charter schools sound good, and there’s anecdotal evidence that some of them work well,” he said. “But then there’s also a great deal of evidence that they don’t work very well.”

The group Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education is spending about $100,000 on a TV ad campaign to promote charter school legislation during this session. 

Supporters of charter schools contend that charter schools give families a tuition-free option if they aren’t happy with their traditional public schools, or if the schools available to them are failing.

Frankfort Independent Board of Education Chairman Paul Looney said he invited Rollins to the meeting. 

Looney said he’s fielding a lot of questions from the public about charter schools and the “districts of innovation” bill.

Charter schools are taxpayer funded, but independent of local school board control. Kentucky is one of 10 states that prohibit them.

The House Education Committee was scheduled to spend two hours discussing the issue today – the first time Rollins has allowed a charter schools hearing since becoming chairman in 2009.

But Rollins said there wouldn’t be a vote yet on House Bill 77, sponsored by Republican Rep. Brad Montell of Shelbyville. He previously told The State Journal that the members of his committee are “mixed” in their support for charter schools.

A tentative agenda published Monday lists 10 on both sides of the issue who will testify. It includes representatives of state and national organizations, including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Education Association, and officials from several public school districts.


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