A bipartisan group of Louisville Metro Council members have signed a letter urging the Kentucky General Assembly to support charter schools legislation.
Earlier this week, the House Education Committee held a hearing on a bill that would create charter schools in the state. Several supporters testified that Kentucky is being left behind as one of the nine states without the education alternative.
Councilwoman Cheri Bryant-Hamilton, D-5, was one city lawmaker who signed the petition calling on the state legislature to pass the bill. She says the broadening coalition of council Democrats and Republican from various parts of the city should show leaders in Frankfort that the commonwealth needs to provide local communities with more educational choices.
“We want all the tools in the toolbox and I don’t think one-size fits all. I don’t think sitting next to another child is going to improve my education, but I think the small class size, extended day and Saturday school, a lot of the tools in charter schools appeals to people and to parents,” she says.
Eleven other council members have joined Hamilton in lobbying Frankfort for the reform: Barbara Shanklin, D-2, Ken Fleming, R-7, Kevin Kramer, R-11, Bob Henderson, D-14, Kelly Downard, R-16, Glen Stuckel, R-17, Jon Ackerson, R-18, Jerry Miller, R-19, Stuart Benson, R-20, Robin Engel, R-22, and Dan Johnson, D-21.
In addition to council support, leaders in favor of charters schools add that more than 9,000 Kentuckians have signed a petition supporting public charters and have lobbied their elected officials to do the same.
Former councilman and Louisville mayoral candidate Hal Heiner is chairman of Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education, which has been jockeying for the change. He says his former colleagues crossed party lines to support charter schools because education trumps partisan politics.
“This is a courageous step for these council members to jump into this effort. And also I think they have an understanding of how really desperate we are here in Kentucky to bring a different form of education to the students,” he says.
Advocates are pushing for a vote on charter schools for this legislative session, but House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway, says the panel will continue holding hearings until state lawmakers are comfortable with the issue. If approved, however, the alternative school option would be allowed to receive public funds but operate with a private board made up of parents, residents and education advocates.
Opponents argue charter schools have mixed results and are not a panacea for low-performing students. But Hamilton says the broadening coalition in Louisville represents a growing frustration with the current education system especially, among minorities who are fed up with the achievement gap.
In 2010, a report released by the Schott Foundation found the graduation rate for African-American males in Jefferson County Public School was only 36 percent.
“There’s something going on in education with our black kids, especially our black boys after the 3rd grade. They get to the middle school years and kids are coming out of school not reading,” says Hamilton. “We just need to do better.”