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Top Kentucky education official says he's unlikely to defend charter school law

A large, empty classroom.

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason Glass said he probably won’t stand behind the state’s new charter school funding law should opponents file a constitutional challenge in court.

“I will likely not expend the time and resources of [Kentucky Department of Education] staff to defend the issue,” Glass told the Local Superintendents Advisory Council during a meeting Tuesday. “Instead, that will be a matter for the attorney general to take up.”

Glass rattled off a list of what he believes are “significant constitutional issues” with the law, which would require school districts to transfer money to charter schools created within their boundaries.

Charter schools are run by private boards and funded with public money. They’ve technically been legal in Kentucky since 2017, but there are not yet any because lawmakers didn’t create a permanent funding mechanism for them until 2022. Numerous bodies must create regulations before would-be charter boards can apply to open schools.

Many charter opponents, including Gov. Andy Beshear, warned that the law will likely draw a constitutional challenge because it diverts tax dollars intended for public school systems.

As of now, however, no lawsuits have been filed.

Meanwhile, Glass said Kentucky’s Department of Education and Board of Education must proceed with creating the regulations mandated by the charter school funding law, known as House Bill 9. The Local Superintendents Advisory Council gave preliminary approval to policy changes that bring the Board of Education’s regulations in line with the measure

“Unfortunately, House Bill 9 was very prescriptive and left little to be decided by the policy experts at KDE or with the board,” Glass said.

The regulations mirror the statute and detail how districts will calculate how much to send to charter schools within their boundaries. Though most superintendents on the advisory council voted in favor of the changes, they made it clear they felt their hand was forced.

“At no point would I like to say that I voted for charter schools today, because I didn’t,” said Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Robbie Fletcher.

Harrison County Schools Superintendent Harry Burchett  added, “There are serious constitutional issues with local taxing authorities levying taxes and then transferring that to unelected bodies.”

Many superintendents on the call were worried the new law would allow charters to siphon students out of their school systems, along with the cash that follows them under the new statute. The law, and regulations approved by the council, allow charter schools to accept students from anywhere in the state, meaning school districts could be forced to spend local tax dollars on students who do not reside in their boundaries.

Fletcher said he believes that puts public school districts at a financial disadvantage.

“We are looking at ways of trying to help our students to be career and college ready,” he said. “Unfortunately, that costs money. And anything that takes away money from the public school system limits what we can offer our students.”

The council’s decision sends the proposed regulations to the state Board of Education for consideration at its Oct. 12 meeting.

Jess Clark is WWNO's Education Desk reporter. Jess comes to the station after two years as Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC (Chapel Hill). Her reporting has aired on national programs, including NPR's All Things Considered, Here & Now from WBUR, and NPR's Weekend Edition.
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