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Charter schools funding bill passes Ky. legislature

The Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort houses the three branches of Kentucky's state government.
The Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort houses the three branches of Kentucky's state government.

A bill funding charter schools in Kentucky for the first time passed out of the state legislature despite outcry from traditional public school advocates.

The measure now heads to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who has said he would veto it, though the Republican-controlled legislature will likely override him.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run institutions that have fewer regulations than traditional public schools, which supporters say allows them to innovate. 

Kentucky first passed a charter schools bill in 2017, but lawmakers never passed a permanent funding mechanism.

Sen. David Givens, a Republican from Greensburg and bill supporter, said House Bill 9 completes work lawmakers have spent years drafting and debating.

“So here we stand today, five years later, to codify that funding model largely in line with what was voted on in 2017,” Givens said. “What we have before us here in House Bill 9 is an opportunity for us to excel in places where students deserve to be in robust programs of excellence.”

Charter schools have been controversial in the state, especially in rural areas, amid worries that they would sap public funds from traditional public schools and cripple local districts.

Under the bill, if charter schools are approved by local “authorizers,” public school districts would be required to fund them within their borders. Potential authorizers include local school boards, the mayors of Louisville and Lexington and the governing board of Northern Kentucky University.

The bill also requires charter schools to be created in northern Kentucky and Jefferson County in the next two years, as part of a “pilot program.”

Opponents of the measure shared concerns the measure would take needed funding away from public schools, and instead give it to private companies who manage charter schools.

Democratic Rep. Reginald Thomas of Lexington said he doesn’t think public dollars should be used for charter schools.

“What this bill does is that it takes your public money and allows private individuals to take that money and run that school and they own everything,” Thomas said. 

Sen. Robin Webb, a Democrat from Grayson, said it would be unconstitutional for charter schools to use local funds.

“I hope I’m wrong in this instance, I certainly do, but I also value the constitution in the state of Kentucky and I hope this bill is unconstitutional as deemed by the court,” Webb said.     

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Glass issued a statement after the vote, saying the bill doesn’t provide “stable funding” and predicting the issue would be resolved in the courts system.

“While the funding solution put forth in this year’s bill attempts to remedy this issue, it also creates new constitutional questions relating to the forced transfer of local school funds that ultimately will have to be resolved by the courts,” Glass said.

Beshear said he would veto the bill, saying he believes it is “unconstitutional in its current form” at a news conference earlier this month.

Though it only takes a majority of lawmakers in each legislative chamber to override a Kentucky governor’s veto, charter schools supporters have no votes to spare in the House, which approved the bill by the slimmest of margins last week.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.