FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Despite a fiery debate, Republican lawmakers moved one step closer towards making charter schools a reality in Kentucky.
The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed a bill that would create a permanent funding system for charter schools.
Several Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the charter school bill, but it was not enough to vote down the bill. The bill ended up passing 51-46.
Charter schools are schools that are funded with taxpayer dollars but are run by private groups. In 2017, Kentucky lawmakers legalized them, but none have been created because lawmakers didn't set up a permanent funding stream.
That's where House Bill 9 comes in. The bill creates a funding model to provide charter schools with public money. Like traditional public schools, charter schools would receive a mix of local and state tax money.
Charter school opponents say charters would divert badly needed money away from traditional public schools.
"We're barely getting by. We don't get full funding for transportation. We still are fighting for full-day Kindergarten," said Nema Brewer with KY 120 United-AFT, a local chapter of a national teachers' union.
But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Chad McCoy argues there's a need for charter schools. He says they are an alternative option for students who can’t afford private school but aren’t doing well in traditional public schools. He also believes charters won't take much away from traditional public schools.
"These things are going on all over the country and they're not going to hurt public schools," he said. "90% of kids will still go to public schools."
So far, the bill has had a bumpy journey — reflecting the hot-button status of charter schools in Kentucky. The measure was removed from one House committee and reassigned to the Education Committee, which underwent a couple of last-minute membership changes before the crucial vote that helped push the bill through the committee.
Public education advocates say they're angry that lawmakers shifted things around to get their way.
"Bulls**t. I said it. I'll say it again," said Brewer. "You are looking at the worst of government right here, right now, in Kentucky."
Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner criticized the maneuvering ahead of the vote — reassigning the bill to another committee and changing the panel’s membership.
“Some bills are meant to not pass out of committee because they’re not ready yet,” she said. “And for the gamesmanship that has gone on to get a ‘yes’ vote and to get this out of committee, this is not good democratic process, this is not good governance, this is not transparency.”
Another key feature of the bill would require at least two charter schools be created under pilot projects — one in Louisville and one in northern Kentucky.
“My hope is, if we run a pilot project ... that will show the rest of the state there’s nothing to be afraid of,” said McCoy.
The bill now heads to the Senate. If the bill passes out of the legislature, Governor Andy Beshear has said he will veto the measure.