Kentucky lawmakers give final passage to charter school bill

March 30, 2022 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s GOP-run legislature signaled Tuesday it’s ready to put charter schools to the test, likely setting up a policy showdown with the Democratic governor over a hot-button education issue.

The bill paving the way for charter schools to open on a pilot basis won 22-14 final passage in the Senate. The measure also creates a permanent funding stream for charters.

Gov. Andy Beshear has vowed to veto it. The bill’s supporters, however, pushed the proposal through in time to ensure lawmakers could take up a veto override in wrap-up work before this year’s legislative session ends in mid-April. The legislature is set to take a break after Wednesday to give the governor time to review bills sent to his desk and decide which ones to sign or veto.

After years of inaction, charter schools could get a kick-start from the bill passed Tuesday.

The legislature authorized charter schools in 2017. None have been created in Kentucky because lawmakers did not provide a permanent funding mechanism.

ADVERTISEMENT

The new measure would set up a long-term funding method for charter schools. Public charters, like traditional public schools, would receive a mix of local and state tax support.

Another key feature of the measure would require at least two charter schools be created under pilot projects — one in Louisville and one in northern Kentucky.

The bill’s backers said charters would give parents more choices for their children’s schooling.

“It’s not looking to take over all of education,” Republican Sen. Mike Wilson said in supporting the bill. “It’s just looking to be a tool to be used where needed.”

Noting the bill’s limited introduction for charters, he added: “Let’s give it a try. It’s a pilot project, and if it doesn’t work we don’t have to do it anymore.”

The measure drew vigorous opposition from public education groups. Opponents said charter schools would divert funding from traditional public schools and raised questions about oversight and accountability of charters.

“This is a painful day for Kentucky,” said Democratic Sen. Robin Webb. “Charter schools were never intended for all students, to serve all students. They were intended for the best performers, the least difficult and the least expensive.”

Some opponents predicted the measure will be challenged in court if it becomes law.

Another bill winning final passage Tuesday is aimed at overcoming Kentucky’s nursing shortage by boosting enrollment in nursing schools and luring out-of-state nurses into the state’s workforce.

The measure would lift enrollment limits in nursing programs meeting student achievement standards and accelerate licensing for out-of-state nurses to work in Kentucky.

Republican Sen. Robby Mills, a lead sponsor of the bill, called its passage “a significant achievement for the nursing profession and, in turn, the wellbeing of so many Kentuckians,”

Kentucky has faced a shortage of nurses for years but the problem worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Late last year, Beshear declared the state’s nursing shortage to be an emergency. The governor pointed to projections that Kentucky will need more than 16,000 additional nurses by 2024 to help fill gaps caused by retirements and people leaving the profession.