FRANKFORT — In this weekly column I try to emphasis positive legislation that I believe will move our state forward. Unfortunately, in the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session, the Kentucky General Assembly passed some very far-reaching legislation that I believe is wrong for our state and wrong for our children.
Late on the 28th day of this 30-day session, the Senate and House passed legislation to allow charter schools to operate in Kentucky, funded by local school district tax dollars. Charter schools are exempt from state regulations, and do not charge students tuition. Instead, they are funded using money that would otherwise go to the local public school district. House Bill 520 allows local school boards and the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to authorize these “public” charter schools, beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. The companion legislation, House Bill 471, requires the local school districts to send their per-pupil state funding (SEEK), as well as any federal funding, for each student that goes to a charter school.
As a former educator, I vehemently opposed both measures and defended public education and our public school teachers with my no votes. Our public school systems may not be perfect, but they certainly are not a “disaster,” as some proponents of charter schools have said. Since 1990 we have gone from 47th in the nation to 26th. Yes, we have more work to do, but draining our local schools of funding is not the answer. Furthermore, HB 520 opens the door for the privatization of our schools by allowing for-profit entities to establish charter schools in our districts. These schools will essentially compete for our best and brightest students and for the money that follows them.
While the legislation requires only certified teachers to be hired at charter schools, there are no protections for teachers in the public school system who might be laid off due to declining enrollments. The legislation also permits charter school students who cannot participate in state-sanctioned school athletics at their charter school to participate in sports at the public school in their district.
This measure will affect real people – and those real people, our Kentucky families, are going to feel the pain of HB 520.
I lost the vote on this issue, but as long as I am in Frankfort, I will stand up for public education, for our public school students, and for our public school teachers. It is our job to protect them and to fix any parts of the system that are broken. Charter schools do nothing to help local school districts, and in fact will harm them by drawing off already limited funding.
In my opinion, the passage of this legislation is the worst thing to happen to public education in Kentucky in my lifetime.
Another measure – one that I could support – was legislation to create a “voluntary travel ID” card to meet federal REAL ID requirements. House Bill 410 creates an enhanced driver’s license that could be used to board airplanes and enter certain federal facilities, including certain military facilities. As of Jan. 1, 2019 federal law requires a specialized ID or driver’s license for access to these facilities. The bill would also permit issuance of a “standard” driver’s license or state ID card, but both cards will be issued for 8 years rather than the current 4 years.
Several other bills that were sent to the Governor this week ranged from enhanced animal cruelty legislation to authorization for a veterans’ center to legislation fighting prescription drug abuse.
The next step is for the Governor to consider the legislation, which will either get his stamp of approval — his signature – or his veto. Unfortunately, the Governor has already said that he will not veto the charter schools bill. We will return to Frankfort for two final days at the end of the month to consider additional legislation and overriding any gubernatorial vetoes.
To share your opinion on a bill or proposal, call the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. To check the status of a bill, check http://www.lrc.ky.gov/. In addition, feel free to e-mail me directly at [email protected]
Senator Johnny Ray Turner represents Kentucky’s 29th District.