The new director of charter schools at the Kentucky Department of Education has some important advice for school board members: Don’t be caught by surprise by a charter school application.
Earl Simms (left), director of the KDE Division of Charter Schools, outlined some of the ins and outs of how charter schools will operate in Kentucky during the Friday keynote address at KSBA’s Winter Symposium, Dec. 1–2 in Louisville. Simms encouraged school boards – as the primary authorizers of charters in Kentucky – to start preparing for the process now.
“I would encourage all of you to be thinking about this: Don’t wait until you get a charter school application in order to do some of these things, because by then, you’ll be scrambling,” he said. “Think about what are you going to look for in a charter application. What do you think is a good fit for your own communities?”
Simms recommended boards start working on a process for receiving and reviewing applications, and to seek training on authorization of charters. He said besides KSBA training, the KDE will help by creating a guide detailing “what to look for in a good application.”
The four administrative regulations that will govern public charter schools were approved by the Kentucky Board of Education last month and are expected to receive final approval by various legislative committees soon.
Local school boards and collaboratives of school boards are authorizers by law; the mayors of Lexington and Louisville may also file a Notice of Intent to engage in authorizing activity, which includes acting on charter school applications, contracting with successful applicants and later renewing (or not) those contracts, and overseeing public charter schools.
Simms told Winter Symposium attendees that public charter schools are another option for students and not “a silver bullet” for success. Still, several board members voiced concerns during the question-and-answer portion of his presentation, raising issues from racial segregation to shifting funding away from traditional public schools.
One item board members do not need to worry about is coming up with the application itself; there will be a single, statewide charter school application, Simms said, that is “extremely rigorous,” setting what he called “a high bar, but not a barrier.”
KSBA staff attorney Whitney Crowe said boards also need to be getting ready as soon as possible by designating a place on the district’s website for charter school-related information, since the state’s charter school laws already in effect require authorizers to solicit and invite applications. This site should include links to the required application, authorizer policies and procedures, and points of contact, as well as other relevant information about the process the local board uses in its authorizing responsibilities, she said.
Policy will be another early step that board members will take. Last year’s policy update included one policy to reflect that the local boards act as authorizers under the new statutes. KSBA has followed the charter school regulations as they have gone through the regulatory process, Policy Director Katrina Kinman said. “Looking ahead to the 2018 Annual Update, we have already identified new policy areas that will need to be created related to charter schools, as well as existing policies that will need to be revised based upon these changes,” she said.
One missing piece of the puzzle at this point is a funding mechanism in state law. The current funding provision, which, among other things, provides that authorizing school districts retain 3 percent of the total funding for a charter school, will expire on June 30. Simms said some charter school applicants may be waiting to see what the 2018 legislature comes up with for a funding formula before applying, since the application requires a five-year budget plan.