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Concerns over Charter Schools bill

This is to provide you more information on HB 520, the charter school bill that will move forward soon.

 In many ways, this bill is positive for school board interests. Local boards would be the authorizers of charters. 

However, there are three major concerns discussed below, for which we are urging you to contact your legislators.  Specific talking points are at the very end of this email.

 Overview

Under the bill, school boards would be the authorizers of a charter school. However, it also allows that any authorizer can approve an “unlimited” number of charter schools. The bill would apply statewide, and not in only a few districts or urban areas. All charter schools would be allowed to enroll students from all across the state. Virtual charter schools are also allowed, and could enroll students from anywhere in the state. As we will describe in more detail below, the combined effect of these provisions is concerning because the bill would then REQUIRE not only state but also LOCAL tax funds to be “transferred from a district where a student resides to a charter school enrolling that student, no matter where that charter school is located, including virtual charters. For the reasons that follow, we believe this violates the state constitution in several ways.

Major Concerns:

1.       Transfer of local tax funds

By law, each elected school board is the tax-levying authority for local tax funds used to support schools. Due to cuts in state support over the last decade, several districts are now funding more than half of their total expenditures from local tax receipts. These taxes are imposed by the school board for the purpose of operating the public schools of that district. Under the state constitution, all taxes must be imposed for a specific stated purpose, and the revenues may be used only for that purpose, and only by the tax-levying authority. Any state mandate that local taxes shall be transferred to another entity – perhaps in another location in the state – to be used for purposes other than operating the schools of the district imposing the tax violates this constitutional provision. It is also a substantial and unprecedented infringement on local board control. This provision of the bill must be amended to comply with the constitution, and to protect services provided to students in schools of the district where the local tax is levied.

 It is important to note that a local board may voluntarily expend its local tax receipts for public charter schools that it authorizes, if the charters are serving students of that district. However, the constitution prohibits local taxes from being taken or transferred for other purposes by the General Assembly.  If supporters of the bill believe that the state portion of funds alone, without local tax money, is inadequate for a charter school to operate, that should be addressed by an additional appropriation of state money by the General Assembly over and above current levels, and not by taking local tax moneys. The bill could easily be amended to address this issue. Above all else, this is our biggest concern for the sake of students’ services, for local autonomy, and for accountability to our constituent taxpayers. 

 The bill currently does not provide for accountability on this point. With statewide enrollment in conjunction with transfers of local revenues, the bill would lead to a community’s local tax dollars being transferred to a charter school that was not authorized by that school board. The tax revenues could even be from a recallable levy that the community supported. The charter school receiving those funds elsewhere in the state, would not be answerable to the local board in any way because it hadn’t been authorized by that local board. The end result would be less accountability to the taxpayer, not more. This can be resolved by amending the bill to remove the transfer of local funds

 2.       Virtual charter schools

The bill allows virtual charter schools to be authorized, which may provide all instruction online with no physical presence in the state.  Evidence presented to the Kentucky Board of Education by local and national experts in November demonstrated the poor student academic outcomes among charters nationwide. Based on this, KSBA is opposed to virtual charters in the state. In fact, experts from Stanford University presented data that showed “academic benefits from online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule,” and recommended to the Board that Kentucky should not allow virtual charter schools.  A recent study by Education Week also found significant problems with the governance and financial operations of many virtual charters across the country. These reports are linked in the attached summary. Given Kentucky’s socioeconomics, it is imperative that all students attend a brick-and-mortar school with personal access to teachers, support staff, and wrap-around services, or academic success will suffer. 

 3.       Extensive appeals process

KSBA supports an appeals process in the approval or denial of a charter application; however, the bill would allow appeals to the Kentucky Board of Education for each and every contract amendment that a charter operator requests and a local board denies, which seems to assume bad faith on the part of local boards. The process could become very lengthy, burdensome, and most importantly detract from focus on quality education efforts for all students.  Lastly, this process infringes upon the legal authority of a school board to conduct its own affairs, enter into contracts, and manage and control its educational programs.

 ---   ACTION ALERT   --- 

Please contact your legislators, all members of both education committees, and President Robert Stivers and Speaker Jeff Hoover, and ask them to:

1.       Amend HB 520 to remove the unconstitutional transfer of local tax dollars by the state, in the interests of protecting services to all students; ensuring local taxpayer accountability; protecting the constitution; and preserving the local control of elected school boards valued by every Kentuckian.

2.       Amend HB 520 to prohibit virtual charter schools, in line with the recommendations of state and national experts, and in light of the dismal performance record of virtual charters nationally.

3.       Amend HB 520 to lessen the burden of the appeals process relating to charter amendments and provisions deemed to be “unilateral” conditions despite being agreed to in charter contracts. This would give local boards and applicants a level playing field for positive, good-faith contract negotiations.

 Contact them by:

1.       Calling the LRC Message Line at: 1-800-372-7181; and

2.       Calling their offices at 1-502-564-8100 and asking for them by name; and also

3.       Via email, and through any personal relationships you may have.  Robin Webb (State Sen.) robin.webb@lrc.ky.gov

Kevin Sinnette (State Rep. for Boyd County) ksinnette@windstream.net

This bill will move very fast, so NOW is the time to make your voices heard!

Detailed Summary Document





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