Louisville Forum Hears Charter School Debate

by Devin Katayama on January 11, 2012

Charter school advocates say Kentucky should join the 41 other states that have adopted legislation allowing charters, which use state money to fund unique education opportunities.

The debate over charter schools has been contentious in past years in Kentucky, and this year looks no different while the two sides of Kentucky’s charter school feud say finances, choice and success can all be debated.

At a Louisville Forum debate on charter schools Wednesday, opponents brought literature and data as artillery. Jefferson County Public Schools director of accountability Robert Rodosky said the district is a leader in national math and reading tests.

The National Assessment of Educational Assessment (NAEP) test is taken by all students nationwide. Kentucky has earned higher scores on NAEP than the charter school average, said Rodosky.

“When they tell you that charter schools are going to make a difference you really have to be leery of that claim. Because the one source of data that everybody takes, it doesn’t quite match up,” he said.

But NAEP critics argue that Kentucky exempts more students from having to take the test than most other states. The Kentucky Department of Education has since approved of changes that would include some populations like English Language Learners beginning this school year.

Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim cited several articles which say charter schools don’t work and take money away from investments in public schools.

“These charters will rob critical funding and resources from our public schools that I believe parents want to stick with and improve, not abandon and run to a charter school,” said McKim.

Advocates say that’s not true.

University of Kentucky professor Dr. Wayne D. Lewis Jr. said money follows students, and appropriations will be fair.

“If a child or a parent wants his or her child to attend a charter school then that parent applies for that child to attend that charter school. And guess what happens if the parent isn’t happy with the charter school? They take them out,” he said.

Charters opens up options for students, Lewis said, and it’s up to individual states to write legislation governing the schools. This includes ways to finance the schools and hold management accountable for student success, he said.

“We’re in great position to learn from the mistakes that folks have made across the country with charter school legislation and there have been many mistakes,” he said.

McKim is further concerned charter schools don’t offer teachers a fair working environment. Charter teachers would not be subject to the same rules as teachers in public schools, he said.

Legislation legalizing charter schools is up for debate once again in the General Assembly, and a group led by former Louisville mayoral candidate Hal Heiner has spent thousands of dollars on ads promoting the bill. House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins says the measure may come up for a vote this year.

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