Elizabethtown-area lawmakers address charter school worries, but say public schools must do more than ask for money; "We don't care (about education)? That's bologna..."

News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown, March 19, 2017

Talk of charter schools dominate legislators’ breakfast meeting with public
By Ryan Alves

While constituents sipped on coffee, Hardin County’s three Republican representatives came together Friday morning at Chick-fil-A in Elizabethtown to discuss various policies, review the latest General Assembly session and share their vision for the rest of 2017 at the local and state levels.

“I’ve done both these breakfast meetings and more formal forums, but I think these are pretty useful,” said Russell Webber, who represents parts of Hardin and Bullitt counties. “It’s a great opportunity to talk with folks. In the grand scheme of representing a district, this is a pretty valuable tool.”

The biggest topic of conversation from the group of 20 or so was aimed at education, specifically House Bill 520, which would allow charter schools in the commonwealth.

It was passed Wednesday by lawmakers but has yet to be signed into law.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, the soonest charter schools could come to the state would be 2018 because enabling regulations must be developed.

Jim DuPlessis, Tim Moore and Webber tried to ease concern of charter school opponents by standing unified in their opinion that Hardin County doesn’t need charter schools.

“There are two qualifications for charter schools,” said Moore, a representative for Grayson and part of Hardin counties. “The first is a school has to be failing and the second is that parents have to have the perception that a school is failing. Are there people clamoring for that in Hardin County? No.”

DuPlessis said charter schools’ effectiveness also can relate to demographics.

“Charter schools don’t help white kids that much,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, they show only marginal improvements in rural America. Most of the work is done in poorer, urban areas. We don’t need them (in Hardin County).”

All three legislators agreed Jefferson County could need charter schools.

DuPlessis said he’s also been asked why they can’t just be approved in Louisville.

“You can’t ... because Kentucky’s constitution says everything has to be equal,” he said.

Moore wanted it to be known that legislators in Kentucky care about education.

“We’re exploring other options to improve education. So we don’t care?” he asked. “That’s bologna. We do. Our schools have been failing a certain population of kids for generations. Why do we keep doing the same things? That’s the definition of insanity.”

Moore said improving education in the state isn’t as simple as the “give us more money” answers he often hears.

“The only idea I’ve ever heard is we need more money,” Moore said. “Ideas one through 10 are we need more money. Well, what about ideas 11 through 100? I’m still waiting to hear those.”

DuPlessis agreed.

“Almost 60 percent of our budget goes toward education. How much more do we have to spend? At what point is too much? We’re talking about spending money, but we just don’t have it,” he said.

A future reform to Kentucky’s tax system also was on the table at the breakfast meeting.

“This was by far one of the busiest session I’ve ever had,” Moore said. “There was no way we could tackle tax reform. But the governor has declared it’s time.”

Moore said he didn’t believe in raising taxes “but at the same time, I believe in sticking to your commitments.”

“Tax reform will hurt everyone across the board, but it has to be fixed because we have an antiquated tax system.”

Moore also said everyone would need to be on board.

“We can’t have people breaking and running. It will fall apart quickly,” Moore said. “For so long the political way has been, ‘We’ve got a crap sandwich. Here, you eat it.’ We should all be getting behind this and working together.”

Bobby Alexander, an Elizabethtown resident, asked if legislative salaries would be a part of the reform, which led to a back-and-forth with DuPlessis.

“How about you come and give this a try?” DuPlessis asked Alexander in return.

“You asked for this job, so don’t complain,” Alexander replied.

Helping veterans also was brought up by the community members. Moore agreed Kentucky could do more for its veterans.

“Our veterans are getting younger and younger these days,” he said. “We need to start working with them to get them the tools, skills and opportunities to find success after they come home.”

Travis Roberts of Eli­­za­­beth­town had one question for the representatives regarding the Real ID bill.

“Will the governor sign House Bill 410 the second time around?” he asked.

In the 2016 session, Bevin vetoed the Real ID bill. Earlier in March, the Kentucky House passed a new version, which would make Kentucky’s driver’s licenses compliant with federal regulations. The difference between the two bills is the latest version makes getting a compliant driver’s license voluntary and not mandatory.

DuPlessis, who sponsors the bill, answered immediately.

“Yes,” he said.

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