A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

William McCann: For long-term benefit of students, charter schools deserve a chance in Kentucky


The first application for a charter school has been rejected. The Bevin-appointed state board of education has been ‘fired’ and replaced. Wayne Lewis, the former commissioner of education, is now living and working in Tennessee. Current and retired educators are running for the state legislature. So now is the time to formally adopt a funding mechanism and move forward with charter schools in Kentucky!

Yes. I know that such a proposal is counter-intuitive. Why, if the other side is routed, should the winners concede anything? Well, eventually today’s leaders will lose or retire and charter schools will become a fact of life. Why not take that into account and try to integrate such schools into Kentucky’s system of education in ways that benefit students without costing educators their jobs and school systems money for charters that do not benefit students?

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According to Arianna Prothero in Education Week, “[a] charter school is a tuition-free school of choice that is publicly funded but independently run.” Furthermore, “[i]n exchange for exemptions from many of the state laws and regulations that govern traditional public schools, charters are bound to the terms of a contract, or ‘charter,’ that lays out a school’s mission, academic goals, fiscal guidelines, and accountability requirements.”

Proponents of charters, including both former Gov. Bevin and Mr. Lewis, claim that such schools provide a real opportunity for parents to choose the best educational situation for their child (or children). In other words, charter schools provide educational choices for parents who otherwise would not have them. That has a logic that appeals to many people (parents and grandparents especially) who are frustrated at the lack of opportunities for many students who are poor, of color, or simply struggling in local schools.

Opponents of charter schools claim that such schools have problems. For example, Peter Greene in a March 2019 Forbes magazine article points out that since 1994 “roughly $1 billion [in federal funding] has been lost to fraud and waste in the charter school sector.” Among the reasons for such fraud and waste cited by Greene are that some “charters never opened or closed quickly,” lack of supervision from the US Department of Education, and management issues.

According to the Education Week article, only about six percent of America’s elementary and secondary students are enrolled in charter schools and most of those schools are in urban areas. So it might be easy to dismiss charter schools as unlikely to affect most Kentucky students and leave the issue alone until it comes up in a future administration. Instead, I’d encourage the governor, the state board of education and the legislature to address the issue sooner rather than later and work together to make a future system of charter schools one that will benefit the state’s students, administrators, and teachers.

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There are some charter schools that have shown success. Adam Ozimek, in a January 2015 article in Forbes, reported that “some charter schools appear to do very well, and on average charters do better at educating poor students and black students. If the same evidence existed for some policy other than charter schools, I believe this would be the conventional wisdom.”

I’m skeptical at best of charter schools; I have taught in public schools, served on a school council, and been a school administrator. But the school choice argument and the success of at least some charter schools seem to ensure that charter schools will eventually be back on the legislative agenda. Given that inevitability I suggest that charter schools be put in place in Kentucky so long as they meet the following criteria:

• Charter Schools must be founded using ONLY private funds and succeed for a period of at least five years before any public funds (or regulatory exemptions) are provided in support of those schools

• “Success” is to be defined as educating all of a charter school’s students at levels equal to or in excess of the standards of success applied to all of Kentucky’s public (non-charter) schools and classifications of students.

According to the legislation passed in 2017, a Kentucky charter school is to be a private non-profit that will receive public funding (and freedom from regulations). However, before it receives any public funding or regulatory exemptions it first ought to have to demonstrate its ability to succeed in Kentucky, working with Kentucky students. As a new business start-up, the charter school should have to demonstrate that it is successful. Certainly, no investor would be supportive of a start-up business that had a business plan but no experience in Kentucky. The same should be true of any charter school. And if charter schools succeed under such circumstances then it seems reasonable that they are encouraged and financially supported in this state.

William McCann lives in Wincherster.


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3 Comments

  1. Mark Nolan says:

    The article’s single premise is the assertion that charter schools are inevitable. Not a shred of evidence is offered to support that premise, so the rest of the article is just propaganda to promote entrepreneurs who wish to swindle tax payer dollars.

    Please offer KEA an opportunity to rebut this paid ad.

    • jacobclabes says:

      This in no way a paid ad, hence the reason it is posted in an ‘opinion’ section. If you have some rebuttal you wish to be shared, please feel free to offer it. KEA is welcome to do the same at any time.

  2. Bill McCann says:

    My premise cannot be summarized as “charter schools are inevitable.” Yes, that is part of it. BUT the point of the op-ed is that Democrats should co-opt charter schools. If Republicans will put into place charter schools when they again win the governorship (as they will inevitably do, whether in four years or further down the road) then Democrats should put in place charter schools now, while they can control what those schools look like, how they operate.

    Right now the norm is for charter schools to gain funding as soon as they are “founded.” This immediately takes students and funding away from public schools and immediately gives both to effectively private schools. I think that this is a bad idea.

    Public schools can benefit from new ways of doing things; the same is true in any field. New ideas are not bad things in and of themselves. If charter schools have good ideas that are effective, they should be encouraged AND receive public funding.

    HOWEVER, as no new business would gain support from investors without a record of success within its community/state the same should be true of charter schools. Essentially, charter schools are private businesses with a public purpose– the education of our children. They should NOT receive any public funds until they prove themselves successful with ALL types of children that attend school within the community in which they reside. Children who are gifted, those who are special needs, those who are white, or black, Asian, Native American, Samoan etc. all must succeed in the charter school for it to be fully funded. Students who come from wealthy families as well as those from middle class or poor families must all succeed for the charter school to be fully funded from public coffers. Public schools must succeed with every child; no less should be expected from charter schools.

    Not only should charter schools succeed with all children, they should do so for a prolonged period of time BEFORE they receive funding. I have suggested five years. Let me say again– they should succeed for FIVE YEARS before they receive public funding. They should not receive public funding right out of the gate; they haven’t proven their ability to do what they say they can do– effectively educate our children.

    On the other hand, if after five years, they are being successful then such charter schools should be supported by our tax dollars. We as tax payers, as educators, as business people, and as Republicans and Democrats should welcome innovative schools that succeed with ALL of our children.

    Forbes magazine has documented that the federal charter school funding program has given a quarter of its funds to charter schools that did not open or that misused or obtained their funding by fraud. Kentucky cannot afford to make a similar mistake. We must be assured that the money charter schools receive is well used to the benefit of ALL our students.

    School choice is a good idea– but only if ALL students benefit. Charter school board members and owners should not get public funds and exemption from public regulations without first proving their effectiveness. Prior studies have shown that some small number of charter schools are doing good jobs; most (studies show) do not. We should not fund the ineffective charter schools.

    Kentucky should only fund those schools that PROVE themselves to be effective at educating all of our students. And if they are successful taxpayers should support those schools. But no charter school should be funded before that point–FIVE YEARS from now (at the earliest).

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