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Bevin Lashes Out at Teachers' Unions During Louisville Charter School Rally

Gov. Matt Bevin lashed out at teachers' unions Tuesday, saying they protect "those who don't need to be protected" and hinder the ability of public schools to succeed.

Bevin, who took office earlier this month, joined about 20 pastors and nearly 40 other residents at the Christ Temple Christian Life Center in West Louisville to tout charter schools.

"We are protecting teachers who should not be teaching in the classroom, we are protecting administrators who are not administrating well," Bevin said.

The governor specifically addressed Jefferson County Public Schools, in which he said there are good teachers and administrators but also "a lot of dead weight floating around."

"We deserve better. Our students deserve better," he said.

The Kentucky Education Association and the Jefferson County Teachers Association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Generally, charter schools are institutions in which outside groups are given public funds to operate a public school. Charters are typically independent from local school systems and are freed of some regulatory requirements. Kentucky is among a handful of states that do not allow for charters.

Bevin said charter schools would eliminate bureaucracy that he believes prevents a number of JCPS schools from succeeding.

He mentioned the recent resignation of Dewey Hensley, former chief academic officer at Jefferson County Public Schools, as evidence that public school systems have a tendency to care more about public perception than performance.

"[Hensley] said 'we're faking it,'" Bevin said. "We're more concerned with what people think we're doing than what we're actually doing."

State Republicans have long sought to pass legislation that would allow for charter schools in Kentucky — the GOP-controlled Senate has approved such measures each year dating back to 2010. But the Democratic-controlled House hasn't taken up the issue.

Bevin, a Republican, is a strong supporter of charter schools. During his campaign he said the state's public school system should be forced to compete for state funds.

"I think it’s a better use of the dollars," he said earlier this year. "No monopoly ultimately serves people well, including in the public education arena.”

He reiterated that sentiment Tuesday evening and promised that "things are going to change," though he quickly added it won't happen "instantaneously."

Pastor Jerry Stephenson dubbed the push for charter schools in Kentucky as the new Civil Rights Movement, and he said Bevin will be the "general that will lead the charge."

Stephenson said he supports public charter schools as a way to reach more children and to provide more options for parents.

Hal Heiner, who Bevin recently tapped to lead the state's Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, encouraged opponents of charter schools to look at cities such as Nashville and Indianapolis, where he said charters have been successful.

Heiner celebrated the idea that charter schools can provide alternative forms of education — like longer school days or weekend classes — for students who may not fit the traditional mold of the public school system.

"It's working in cities all around us," he said. "It can happen here."

But not everyone is buying into the notion that charter schools would be helpful for Louisville.

Gay Adelmann, a parent of a Jefferson County Public Schools student and representative of public school advocacy group Dear JCPS, came to the church Tuesday evening with about 20 other residents to protest charter schools legislation.

"By bringing charters into the mix, it creates more special interest and politics and profit options for groups that are not necessarily going to fix what needs to be fixed within JCPS," she said.

Adelmann said allowing charter schools to be funded with taxpayer dollars would take away needed funds from existing public schools.

"There's only so much money to go around," she said.

She also noted that Jefferson County Public Schools gives parents some options for which school their child attends.

But the odds for the passage of charter school legislation appear better than ever. Adelmann said it's imperative that the local school board and school administration take the initiative to join the discussion about how to move forward.

She said the inaction of the JCPS administration and the Jefferson County Board of Education is partly to blame for the growing support of charter schools in Louisville.

"They put a golden platter out there for charters to come in," she said. "Their inaction on some of the issues we've been trying to get them to pay attention to is partly whey we are in the situation we are in."

But Bevin said charter schools would provide more options for parents who want their children to succeed and spark a fire in public schools to do better.

"For every day, every month, every year that we are not providing a better alternative, we are losing young people, there is an opportunity cost," he said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.