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Charter Schools Bill To Be Heard Wednesday Morning, Ahead Of Deadline

Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building
Henryk Sadura
Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building

After weeks of backroom debates, a charter schools bill will be heard in the Senate Education Committee early Wednesday morning.

Legislative leaders say they want to advance the bill to the governor's desk before the General Assembly breaks for a 10-day "veto period" that begins Thursday.

In order to reach Bevin, the charter school legislation will have to pass out of the senate committee, the full Senate and then return to the House to approve any changes.

Earlier in the day, Senate President Robert Stivers said negotiations were still taking place.

“There has been discussion with House members and the administration about what it should contain and potential tweaks and remedies to some problems that we’re seeing in what was passed to us,” Stivers said.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a version of the charter schools bill, a top priority of many Republicans and Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration.

After weeks of debate about whether to allow online charter schools, how many entities should authorize the organizations and how to fund them, lawmakers will likely present a new version of the charter schools bill on Wednesday morning.

In the version of the bill that passed out of the House, private organizations and community members can apply to open up a charter school.

Local school districts and the mayors of Lexington and Louisville would be charged with approving or denying the charters, though denials could be appealed to the state board of education.

Charters would be exempted from many state regulations, which supporters say would allow for innovation. Charter critics say the policy would siphon funds away from traditional public schools.

Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville, joined a handful of Democratic lawmakers and Jefferson County Public Schools officials in calling for the legislation to be shelved.

“We should have a process between in the interim where we can bring the stakeholders to the table, not stack it against one stakeholder or another," Neal said. "Let’s get them all to the table. Let’s have adult conversation of how this should be done.”

Lawmakers have been tight-lipped about what parts of the bill are still in question, though whether to allow charters to open up statewide, how many authorizers of the institutions there should be and how funding should be structured have been ongoing topics of debate.

On Tuesday, Stivers said a funding mechanism for charters can be established later.

“That doesn’t concern me at this point in time that the funding mechanism is not attached into the bill which has the structure in it for charter schools,” Stivers said.

Though the General Assembly won't meet during the veto period, they will reconvene on March 29 and 30 for the final two days of session.

The Senate Education Committee will hear House Bill 520 at 8 a.m.

This story has been updated.

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