BY COLLEEN COYLE – STAFF WRITER
Last week saw the passage of the Kentucky Charter Schools Bill, a contentious issue that lawmakers have been considering since 2008.
Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s governor signed the bill into law on the March 22, making Kentucky the forty-fourth state to allow charter schools to be established. Proponents argue that charter schools allow innovation and provide more options for students. Critics argue that charter schools aren’t successful and are too similar to private schools, limiting options for students who don’t get in.
What exactly is a charter school?
Though there are some variations, charter schools are publicly funded institutions that can be established by community members who forge charter agreements with the government to start new schools. The schools aren’t subject to typical Federal regulation and can focus on specific types of education such as religion or hard sciences. However, Charter schools aren’t allowed to require tuition or to bar entry based on applications. The only instance in which charter schools can issue rejections is if they have no remaining spaces for students and then students are entered into a lottery, which randomly selects students for enrollment.
There is no clear consensus on if charter schools are ultimately successful. Success rates depend heavily on individual cases, and while charter schools are technically considered public schools, the lack of government oversight and the ownership of school property call that status into question. Public requests for information do not have to be granted by charter school officials, making it difficult to gather accurate information about how any particular school is functioning. Additionally, because private organizations or citizens typically found charter schools, the ownership of school property can make it difficult to determine the charter school’s status.
Charter school opponents argue that a disproportionate amount of money goes to charter schools instead of public schools and that allowing charter schools to split the amount of money available for public schools puts public schools under strain. Additionally, some charter schools receive endowments from private organizations that are larger than their public school counterparts. There are other concerns, including those that religion and freedom of speech won’t be protected at charter schools. While there are policies in place that prevent charter schools from being religious -similar to public school regulations- control over the curriculum and decisions not regulated by the government challenge this claim.
Although the establishment of charter schools in Kentucky has been successful, critics fear that the establishment of charter schools will lead to the implementation of school vouchers in Kentucky. Vouchers are essentially public assistance to help students pay for private primary education. However, vouchers are highly contentious as many say they disproportionately benefit the upper class and take away funds from public schools. Vouchers in Kentucky would have vast implications, as Louisville alone is home to a large handful of private schools and also because many Kentuckians cannot afford private school. This would allow those who could pay for charter schools with government assistance to attend private schools, but it would not help students who can’t afford private school even with assistance.
Matt Bevin’s decision to sign charter schools into law has put Kentucky in a precarious position, with the possibility of improving education in the Bluegrass state or devastating the populations that rely on quality public schools for their education. Only time will tell, but the coming years will reveal the true nature of charter schools, for the good and the bad.