State House Passes Charter School Bill

Grant Anthony Avis, Writer

After years of discussion and debate, proponents of charter schools in Kentucky have won an important victory. House Bill 9 passed the State House with a vote of 51 to 46, paving the way for the funding of charter schools in the state of Kentucky. The bill now goes to the State Senate, where it has passed through committee and is expected to be approved by the Senate as a whole.

The legislation, sponsored by Representative Chad McCoy of Bardstown, creates a permanent funding mechanism for charter schools. This is a significant departure from the current state of education in Kentucky.

Charter schools are private educational institutions managed by a for-profit company with funding provided by the government. This funding would originate from both local and state taxes. 

Proponents of the bill argue it would provide parents with a greater degree of choice when deciding their child’s education. McCoy told reporters Tuesday, ¨Parents are desperate for something different and this is a good opportunity to do something different.¨

On the other hand, public education groups have displayed rare unity against the bill. Disparate groups from the Kentucky Education Association, a teacher group, to the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, have announced their opposition. 

Eddie Campbell, President of the KEA, testified against the bill in a Senate committee, arguing that the bill ¨will make funding deficiencies worse by diverting money away from Kentucky public schools.¨

Several other education leaders, like superintendents and school board members, also testified against the bill.

Athletic leaders have additional concerns. Commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletics Association, Julian Tackett, released a statement saying the bill ¨also creates the very real possibility of a school being formed as a single sport school…and creating tremendous imbalance among schools…¨

Every representative from Hardin County, all Republicans, voted in favor of the bill. Samara Heavrin of Leitchfield, whose new district includes Central Hardin High School along with southern Hardin County, was purportedly a deciding vote. Democrats were unanimous in their opposition to the law and were joined by many Republicans from rural areas, particularly in eastern Kentucky. 

This division within the Republican caucus led to a complicated process to pass the bill in the State House. Originally, the legislation was assigned to the Appropriations and Revenue Committee. However, a majority of the committee was opposed. Consequently, Republican leadership moved the bill to a different committee. There a lawmaker opposed to the bill was removed from the committee and replaced by the bill’s sponsor. 

Governor Andy Beshear has promised to veto the bill. In Kentucky, only 51 votes in the State House are required to overturn a veto. As previously noted, House Bill 9 passed the first vote with precisely 51 votes. 

Beshear added that he feels the bill is unconstitutional. The Kentucky Constitution allows public funds to only go towards public schools. The Network for Public Education Action has promised to bring a lawsuit against the bill. Executive Director of the organization, Carol Corbett Burris, tweeted Tuesday that the group ¨will work with other pro-public ed groups to bring a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality.¨

Similar to other important education bills passed in recent years, the outcome of this lawsuit will likely decide the fate of the legislation.