Commentary: KDE has released strong regulations for charter schools; industry umbrella group wants laxer rules, says application process would "threaten the birth of charter schooling in Kentucky"

The State Journal, Oct. 4, 2017

Kentucky’s charter-school regulations need to stay rigorous
by Ivonne Rovira

The Kentucky Department of Education has released the proposed regulations for charter schools, and already those who wish to exploit Kentucky’s children are circling, ready for a kill.

Kentucky passed a charter-school bill this spring, making us the 44th state to do so. In other states — particularly Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania — charter schools have proved utterly disastrous; fortunately for us, KDE has taken its responsibility very seriously and has proposed quite rigorous regulations.

Among its proposals are that charter schools meet performance standards, including test scores, graduation rates and promotion rates; that those applying to run Kentucky charters reveal performance, finances and any closings of charters they’ve run in other states; and that authorizers — school boards and/or the mayors of Louisville and Lexington — be able to monitor charters and hold them accountable.

But an industry umbrella group, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, lost no time in urging that regulations be laxer. “These draft documents would severely hamper the ability of high-caliber founding groups to create and sustain excellent schools for the students who need them the most,” Lisa Grover, NAPCS’s senior director of state advocacy and support, wrote in a statement released Sept. 21. “They must be significantly [emphasis added] altered if Kentucky wants its strong public charter school law to actually lead to high-quality charter schools for disadvantaged students.”

In a letter NAPCS sent to KDE’s Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council, the association expresses its disappointment and states “these draft documents would severely hamper the ability of high-quality founding groups to create and sustain excellent schools for the students who need them the most,” although the letter does not specify what would cause this.

But the reason can be deduced from the letter sent at the same time by Joel Adams, executive director of the Kentucky Public Charter Schools Association: requiring the proposed charter-school application and the proposed charter-school contract “existentially threaten the birth of charter schooling in Kentucky.” Yes, you read that right: Requiring a group wishing to take charge of our most precious resource — our children — to fill out an application, reveal its track record and sign a standardized contract is much too rigorous for charter-school operators and would threaten the creation of charters.

Adams insists in his letter that “[n]either is required by the statute to be created as a uniform document.” Adams also objects to charter-school authorizers having “broad approval and intervention powers” over charters. So if those authorizing a charter school do not have the power to oversee the charter school they create, who does? No one, that’s who. And that’s the point: to allow secretive, unaccountable charter schools, given to mismanagement and corruption, to thrive, as they have in other states.

KDE has proposed regulations that require transparency and accountability for charter schools in return for public funds. That should not be too much to ask. Rigor is great for our students; it’s even more important for our charter schools.

Ivonne Rovira of Louisville is vice president of research for Save Our Schools Kentucky.

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