Fifteen minutes – that’s how long the new House Majority let opponents to charter schools discuss a last-minute funding bill that will siphon money from our public schools for years to come.
It was an 11th-hour sneak attack on March 15th, offered in the final moments of the final day for passing legislation. It was certainly not the first assault on the democratic process during the 2017 session, but it’s the one with the most potential for damaging the future of Kentucky’s school children.
We proudly voted “no” on both House Bill 520, which will allow for the creation of for-profit charter schools in Kentucky, and House Bill 471, a measure that transfers funds from our public schools toward the operation of privately-operated charters.
The money to create these alleged purveyors of school choice was tacked on to a bill intended, in part, to help retired teachers, a completely political ploy that you’re likely to see in a negative campaign ad targeted at me in the months to come. At this time, though, that is the least of my concerns. Throughout this session, we stood up for public education, and for the people of Kentucky, as honestly and as often as we were allowed.
In the limited time we were provided to question the charter school bill and its surprise funding mechanism, we found that there is absolutely nothing in House Bill 520 that will prohibit your public tax dollars from being drained from our already financially-strained school systems into the pockets of private, for-profit companies. These new charter schools will also be allowed to function with very little of the accountability or transparency that we demand of our public administrators, teachers and students.
It will take some time to fully digest the long-term effects of this sweeping legislation, pushed and prodded by wealthy, out-of-state political interests, and we are saddened that more discussion was not allowed so that we could have determined if there was some element in the creation of charter schools that would ultimately be beneficial to Kentucky. But such was the nature of this legislative session, where we routinely saw major pieces of legislation rushed from committees to the House floor for votes in a day or less, with very limited time for the public to be notified of the potential impact of these far-reaching measures.
Another troublesome measure that rushed through in the final days is Senate Bill 107, legislation that grants the governor wide power to re-create the governing bodies of our state colleges and universities. The governor, in effect, will be able to name and remove members of these schools’ boards of regents at his every political whim. That’s dangerous for the long-term stability of these institutions and their ability to maintain important national accreditation standards.
In contrast to the way these measures were handled, we also gave approval this week to Senate Bill 1, a major education reform bill that will ensure our schools’ productivity is the basis for how students are taught and tested and how teachers are evaluated in our public schools. This legislation was approved after a thorough, bipartisan review over several months through the legislative committee process that brought many voices to the table prior to its ultimate approval in the House on a March 15th by a 94-0 vote.
Despite the many disappointments this session, the House Democrats pledge to monitor these legislative changes in the months to come and work diligently to hold the people responsible for these measures accountable to their promises.
Over the next few weeks, we will also offer more details on the many bills passed during this brief 30-day legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly and provide further information on how they will affect you, your businesses and your families. We will return to Frankfort on March 29th and 30th to consider any vetoes the governor offers to the legislation that has passed. In the meantime, we thank you for this opportunity to serve as your voice in Frankfort and ask that you contact me with any questions or concerns by calling the Legislative Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181.