The Kentucky Senate and House each voted Wednesday in favor of legislation to allow publicly funded charter schools to operate in Kentucky.
The bill now goes to Gov. Matt Bevin, a supporter of charter schools, to be signed into law.
House Bill 520, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman and public school teacher John Carney, R-Campbellsville, HB 520 would allow local school boards to authorize public charter schools in their school districts beginning with the 2017-2018 school year.
The schools would established by contract and governed by independent boards to provide Kentucky residents with nonsectarian educational programs that “meet or exceed student performance standards adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education,” according to the bill.
The Senate voted 23-15 in favor of the bill. The House, which already approved a version of the legislation earlier this month, cast a 53-43 vote this evening officially accepting changes made to the bill by the Senate.
Changes to the bill approved by the Senate and the House would allow the state school board to override a local school board’s decision regarding authorization of charter schools and allow for judicial review of the state board’s decision.
It would also allow mayors of the state’s two largest cities (Louisville and Lexington) to be authorizers of charter schools upon their request, and emphasize that only certified teachers and administrators approved by the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board could be hired to teach at the schools.
Other approved changes would allow, not require, charter schools to give enrollment preference to lower-income students, and would allow charter school students who cannot participate in state-sanctioned school athletics at their school to participate in sports at the traditional public school in their district, along with a few other changes.
Kentucky is one of seven states that do not already allow public charter schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Latonia, read from a Presidential Proclamation issued by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to make the case in support of charter schools. McDaniel quoted Obama’s proclamation as saying: “Whether created by parents and teachers or community and civic leaders, charter schools serve as incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country. These institutions give educators the freedom to cultivate new teaching models and develop creative methods to meet students’ needs.”
In a House debate Wednesday night, Carney said that that public charter schools will give Kentuckians a choice in public education.
“The reality is we have a system that does not work for every child in Kentucky. We teach to the middle,” he said. “Too many folks are being left behind.”
Among those voting against HB 520 was former House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green. Richards said that charter schools would be money-making ventures governed by what he described as “for-profit” companies.
“If you believe it’s unfair for a for-profit management company to take money away from your school system, you can’t vote for this bill. And it will. These management companies have to make money, folks,” said Richards.
Following passage of HB 520, the House voted 61-34 for final passage of House Bill 471, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah. That bill would amend the 2016-18 executive branch budget to create a funding mechanism for charter schools created under HB 520.
Bills to allow charter schools in Kentucky have been filed for consideration in the Kentucky General Assembly since 2008. No charter school bills have passed the House until this year.
The House of Representatives gave final approval to a substantial criminal justice reform measure aimed to reduce repeat offender rates across the Commonwealth. Senate Bill 120 reduces red tape to help get former offenders back to work, strengthen Kentucky families, and make communities safer.
Senate Bill 120 does not adjust Kentucky’s penal code or sentencing process, but specifically adds support mechanisms for those exiting incarceration and re-entering normal society. Among those mechanisms is an expanded work release program to enhance work experience, develop skills, and earn money.
The bill also provides for private industries to partner with local detention centers to offer employment opportunities and develop work skills for specific, local industries. Wages earned from these expanded work opportunities will go to victim restitution, child support, and payment of court costs and fines.
Remaining money can be utilized by the offender to reintegrate after the sentence is complete.
“High repeat offender rates in Kentucky prove that action is necessary to address how our correctional facilities prepare individuals returning to society,” said Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, who ushered the bill through the House. “Ensuring these men and women are well-equipped to integrate successfully back into society is imperative not only for the well-being of those exiting incarceration, but also for the safety and success of our local communities. Obtaining meaningful work proves to lower repeat offender rates, resulting in less victims and less cost to the criminal justice system.”
Senate Bill 120 also allows non-violent offenders who have re-entered society to apply for professional and occupational licenses without being denied automatically. Currently, one in four jobs in Kentucky requires some form of licensure. Under current statute, felons are ineligible to apply for such licenses, hindering their chances of getting a job after serving their time.
“We are doing a disservice to our community by not allowing these individuals to get back to work and better their lives,” Petrie added. “Senate Bill 120 takes a significant step in addressing one of the biggest causes of repeat offenses, and I am proud that the General Assembly passed this measure in a bipartisan manner.”
Providing better opportunities for returning ex-offenders to work has been an initiative supported by Bevin, the House, and the Senate.
From LRC Public Information