Commissioner Pruitt: Charter application process won't be simple, contracts between districts, charters critical; KDE setting up special charter school unit

KSBA eNews Service, Frankfort, April 4, 2017

KDE webcast on new charter school law covers applications, authorizations, enrollment, funding, sports and more
By Brad Hughes

Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt says the new law allowing charter schools in Kentucky can be a boost to ensuring all children have an excellent education. But he also says the success of charter schools can’t happen without a collaborative relationship between charters and local public school districts.

Pruitt and KDE Associate Commissioner and General Counsel Kevin Brown detailed their agency’s interpretations of House Bill 520 – the charter school bill signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin on March 21 – during a 63-minute live webcast Tuesday afternoon.

“This has certainly been a hotly debated topic in Kentucky for a long time; it’s been an emotional issue for many people on both sides,” Pruitt said. “But the law has been passed, and we will implement it with fidelity and will do so in a way that’s going to help our students. I know the educators in Kentucky will do what’s right for children. Charters can be a part of the equation to ensure that each and every child has an excellent education.”

Most of the webinar consisted of Pruitt and Brown reading from the text of a PowerPoint prepared as part of the department’s explanation of House Bill 520 (Important: PowerPoint attached below). Some of the highlights of the presentation included:

Charter applications

“This isn’t going to be a 2-3 page application that you can do in a few minutes,” Pruitt said. “It’s going to be pretty in-depth, pretty well thought out.”

The commissioner announced that there will be a special unit created within his agency to provide support on charter school issues, both for applicants and district officials who must review them.

“We are going to do our best to support the people who are submitting (applications) as well as our local boards and superintendents,” Pruitt said.

All applications will be simultaneously filed with the local board of education and the state, where concurrent reviews will take place.

“I know there are some who are not happy about KBE (Kentucky Board of Education) and KDE being involved (but) I think it is a brilliant stroke because it will allow us to have uniformity across the board,” he said. “Having KBE promulgating the regulations (and) also being the final arbiter allows us to end up with a better product of high quality charter schools.”

Charter school applications denied by a local school board may be appealed to the state board of education. If a second local review is similarly denied, the state board may enter into a charter deal with the applying entity.

Charter contracts

Initial contracts will cover a five-year period with a renewal option for three to five years. Any disagreements involving the contract during its life also may be appealed to the KBE.

“The contract is pretty important,” Pruitt said. “The charter contract is nothing to sneeze about. It’s not going to be simple (and) it needs to be very thoughtful by both parties.”

Among other things, the contract will cover how and when funds disbursed by the public school system will be made to the charter school operator. The law also includes a penalty clause if districts fail to adhere to the timely sharing of funds – not less than 5 percent of the amount in question and the fine may be renewed every five days.

“This can be a significant amount of money,” Pruitt said. “I want to impress upon you as you are setting up office to work with charters to make sure everybody understands that.”

Student transportation

Under the law, public school systems may choose whether to provide transportation from students’ homes to charter schools in which they enroll. Those districts choosing not to provide transportation must give the charter school a proportionate share of per-pupil funding involving a complicated formula.

“One of the things that I hope will happen around transportation is that, as a partner, you (superintendents and school boards) will think about the bigger implication – what’s best for all involved – rather than going with a gut reaction. I’m encouraging superintendents and board members to make sure they are considering every avenue to ensure success for all kids.”

Other highlights

• HB 520 won’t take effect until sometime in June as the bill did not include an emergency clause.

• Charter financing rules set out in HB 471 will only apply to the 2017-18 school year. The General Assembly is expected to write new charter financing legislation in the 2018 session, which the next biennial budget will be adopted.

• The new law requires Pruitt to apply for any types of special federal funding allocated by Congress or the Trump administration for charter schools. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently emailed Pruitt to alert him to plans for such funding.

• The PowerPoint includes a host of requirements for public charter schools under the law, including compulsory attendance, EPSB certified teachers, adherence to the open meetings and open records laws, and disclosure forms by members of a charter school’s board of directors.

• Charter schools must still operate under Kentucky’s public school assessment and accountability systems, and will have annual report cards similar to those produced for other public schools.

“I don’t want anyone getting the impression that you get five years free (from academic review during the length of the contract),” Pruitt said. “Some have mistakenly gotten the impression that charters have five years in which nobody’s going to be watching.”

The webcast may be viewed here

Pruitt said KDE staff are developing a Frequently Asked Questions document about charters, and that will be distributed to all districts upon its completion.

The commissioner previously said he expected to process to complete writing the regulations to implement the law will take most of the rest of 2017, allowing for charter applications to begin in early 2018.

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