FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — After years of inaction, charter schools would gain a foothold in Kentucky and be supplied with a permanent funding stream under a bill advanced by Republican lawmakers Tuesday.
The bill calling for an initial round of charter school openings barely mustered enough support to clear the House Education Committee, sending the measure to the full House for a showdown vote. A handful of Republican members aligned with Democrats to oppose the bill.
If the proposal passes the House, it would still need Senate approval. A handful of days are left to pass it in time to allow lawmakers to take up an expected veto by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
The bill has had a bumpy journey — reflecting the hot-button status of charter schools in the Bluegrass State. 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 committee.
Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature authorized charter schools in 2017 but none have been created because lawmakers did not provide a permanent funding mechanism. Charter school opponents say charters would divert badly needed money away from traditional public schools.
The new measure would set up a long-term funding method for charter schools. Public charters, like traditional public schools, would receive a mix of local and state tax support.
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 Republican Rep. Chad McCoy, the bill’s lead sponsor.
“These things are going on all over the country,” McCoy added. “And they’re not going to hurt public schools. Ninety percent of the kids still go to traditional public schools.”
The “guardrails” included in the 2017 law to oversee charter schools would remain intact, he said.
The measure has drawn strong pushback from many in public education. Opponents on Tuesday raised concerns about the oversight and funding of charter schools. Focusing on the financing mechanism, GOP Rep. Steve Riley said the bill is likely to face a legal challenge if it becomes law.
“I really don’t want us to go through lawsuits again,” he said.
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.”
The legislation is House Bill 9.
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