|Rep. Joe Fischer and Rep. Addia Wuchner in the House. LRC.|
House Bill 520, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman and public school teacher John Carney, R-Campbellsville, passed the House by a vote of 56-39.
Some floor amendments did change the complexion of the bill, from its original language.
Originally HB 520 called for a transfer of local tax dollars to the state and allowed for virtual charter schools. Both of those provisions were removed from the bill.
Rep. Joe Fischer, from Fort Thomas, voted for the bill's passage.
He was not alone. In northern Kentucky, votes were split among partisan lines with all Republicans voting for the bill and Democrats voting against.
The bill, which could still evolve further, now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate to await final passage before heading to Gov. Matt Bevin's desk.
The bill would also allow local school boards and the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to authorize and oversee public charter schools in their school districts beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. The charter schools would be public schools, established by contract and governed by independent boards, that would offer nonsectarian educational programs that “meet or exceed student performance standards adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education,” according to the bill.
Students would have to live in Kentucky to attend the schools, the bill states, with preference given to students who live in the local school district. Enrollment would be voluntary and the schools would not have entrance requirements or charge tuition or fees, other than those fees that are allowed at other public schools.
Governor Bevin, an advocate of charter schools, spoke in favor of House Bill 520 when it was passed the House Education Committee earlier in the day. Bevin said the bill would give every public school student a chance to succeed.
“We have students that we know for a fact, their odds of even graduating are very, very slim—almost nonexistent in many of our schools,” said Bevin. HB 520, he said, would give every child “the same opportunity to get a public education.”
Kentucky is one of seven states that do not already allow public charter schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Concerns with the bill were raised by several lawmakers on the House floor including Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort. A retired public school teacher, Graham said the state’s public schools have been improving, citing rankings that show Kentucky as a national leader in K-12 public education with at least 69 percent of its students classified as college-and career-ready.
“To me, this piece of legislation does not direct us where we really need to go,” he said. “To me, this piece of legislation is a direct attack on the public education system in Kentucky,” said Graham. “Let’s not change our direction as innovators of education reform.”
Carney, however, told the House that there are thousands of Kentucky public school students who are not getting the education they need.
“I have found one size does not fit all” when it comes to public education, he told his colleagues.