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Survey: Kentuckians 'Undecided' On Charter Schools, but Favor Charter-Like Features

More than half of Kentuckians contacted for a new survey released this week say they’re undecided on whether the state’s public education system would improve with charter schools.But a majority of the 501 voting households surveyed support more school options and certain characteristics that set charter schools apart from traditional public schools.“It cuts across all regions and party lines in the state,” says Joe Burgan, spokesman for the Kentucky Charter School Association—the group that commissioned the survey conducted by Glover Park Group.The survey found that 82 percent of Kentucky residents want more school choice, which definition could extend to the type of school choice offered by Jefferson County Public Schools including its magnet options, Burgan says.“But when we drilled down specifically to charter schools we found 71 percent favored public charter schools," he says.The KCSA report shows participant responses to 17 questions, some of which are tailored toward charter school features like support for creating “schools that are given more independence from the local school boards in exchange for greater accountability for improved student achievement.” (See all the questions and the report here.)Although 57 percent of those surveyed were undecided about their support for charter schools in Kentucky, the survey concludes that a majority of both Democrats (68 percent) and Republicans (75 percent) are in favor of charter schools after "educating" them about charters through the questions above.Kentucky is one of eight states that have not passed charter school legislation despite failed attempts the last few years. Opponents say they divert funds from the traditional public school system and say there isn’t enough research to confirm they outperform all other schools.NPR ran a story this summer reporting that the most recent Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) study from Stanford University—which looks at charter school success in 26 states—still left the question of whether charters are a success up for debate. (See the CREDO study here.)One leading voice opposing the charter school movement and privatization of the public school system is education historian and New York University research professor Diana Ravitch, who was awarded the University of Louisville’s 2014 Grawemeyer Award this week.In an interview with WFPL, Ravitch said she supported charters when they were first introduced about 20 years ago.“The charter movement became co-opted by people who are committed not to strengthening public education but to competing with it and beating it. So we have many charter chains that now operate like a Walmart approach,” she says.The No. 1 reason people favored the idea of charter schools was superior performance, but that remains contested, according to the KCSA study. However, Burgan contends that Kentucky is able to craft smart charter school legislation based off the majority of states that have already implemented laws.