Submitted by: Hannah Scinta
On March 21, 2017, Kentucky’s Governor, Matt Bevin, signed House Bill 520 into law. The bill established that Public Charter Schools will have autonomy, are governed by an independent board of directors, are organized and operated under the terms of a charter, and utilize a randomized lottery for student selection. Since the passage of this bill, there have not been any applications to open charter schools. The government is not expecting any schools to open earlier than the 2019-20 school year. The first application period will begin in January 2019 and remain open for 60 days.
Nationally, the charter school implementation began in 2011 with House Resolution 2218, introduced by Representative Duncan Hunter from California, that gave 300 million dollars and showed state government national support for the reform. They added the bill to House Resolution 3989, otherwise known as the Student Success Act. The four guidelines state in Part B, Subpart 1 of the Public Charter School Resolution (section 5201), that the national government will provide financial assistance for the initial implementation, they will evaluate effects, expand amount of high-quality charters, and encourage the states to provide similarly for the charter school programs as they have for traditional public schools.
Many people are uncertain about the possibility of school openings because there has yet to be a consensus on how to fund these charter schools. Not having a funding mechanism poses extreme difficulty since the application requires a five-year budgetary plan. I do not believe that this will cause there to be no applications because there have been various groups who have stated their interests. With research, I do not find that charter schools are the answer to Kentucky’s education system. Kentucky’s education system has many obstacles, such as decreasing the funding and education gap, that warrant focus and effort as opposed to diverting this effort to implementing and supporting a new school model. It is more important to focus on our public education system, increasing diversity, and funding our current teachers’ pensions.
To assure that the education system can survive financially, while still adequately educating the children of Kentucky, we must pursue more in-depth research of the direct and indirect impacts of charter schools. Requiring the legislature to conduct more research is something every stakeholder in the state should be pursuing. In policy, especially policy set forth to change the future of the next generation, we must conduct adequate and well-informed research. Almost every law has an economic impact. These impacts can be direct or indirect so it is very crucial that the impacts are examined before Kentucky accumulates more debt. The research that the stakeholders, whether they be legislators, independent groups, or individual parents, must expand on is if this school theory indeed closes the education gap and provides a high-quality education for Kentucky’s youth.
Overview of Policy Issue:
Across the country, charter school organizations have not had data reach a unified consensus. The current issues in the Kentucky education system are multifaceted – rooted in a lack of funding, the urgent pension problem, segregation, curriculum and standardized testing-based schools. Proponents see charter schools as an answer to these issues, but the question of how this new school theory is going to solve these issues needs to be answered, as their research has not resulted in a satisfactory answer. With something that is so important in the development of children and their success later in life, it is essential to pursue answers to assure that we are making the correct policy decisions with regards to education. This is especially true in Kentucky, due to increasing polarization in education policy along party lines. Education needs to shift from partisan disputes to trying to determine how to best to educate our children. The Kentucky Public Charter Schools Association claims that Kentucky has adopted the best practices from many charter school districts across the country, but it is essential to explore this more deeply.
The motivation behind funding, or lack of funding, is one of the most significant issues for advocates and opponents of charter schools. For example, a businessman in Lexington named James Wagers has decided to host a series of public forums, allowing for a better understanding of the potential impact of charter schools.4 He is taking on the role of informing the public because he believes that the parents of Lexington, including himself, deserve more information. A Fayette County parent who is currently opposed to charter schools said, “It may make some parents decide, ‘Oh yea, I want to support charter schools so my children can go there,” noting the thought that these charter schools could still face favoritism by those with the privilege to support them. Since the government failed to make a permanent funding source for the charter schools during the 2018 legislative session, many remain unsure of the intentions of charter schools in Kentucky. The lack of public knowledge on charter schools creates ambiguity among the reasoning behind the implementation of charter schools.
Charter schools are often viewed as a multifaceted issue because their implementation can promote several components of the education system. The reasons for charter school implementation vary from district to district, and include ideas to promote diversity, combat poverty, maintain equity, spread resources, expand innovation, expand specialty programs, provide adequate pensions and retirement programs, and review tax allocation and increase funding. The reformation stemmed from the idea that these schools can be more responsive to address the needs of the district as well as being a more fiscally responsible investment for the state, as they create a more educated and productive generation of students.
The data on charter schools would suggest that the image portrayed by the advocates is obscure , and heavily depends on the specific language of the law and the public within the district. When charter schools became a theory states were considering in the late 1990s, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement put the codes in specific zones based on what they would allow and how they differentiated from other districts. One can see these variations in the approaches to waivers, employment status, labor relations, funding and financing, school accountability, duration of the year, student success requirements, revoking charters, renewal of charters, and who can grant charters. These variations are viewable in the states’ legal codes.
Previous Approaches and Outcomes:
In examining the approaches to charter schools, several noted education reformers and sociologists have weighed in. Much of the literature surrounding charter schools is highly polarized or inconclusive. This topic has been relevant since this theory was introduced in the early 1990s, but gained momentum after receiving national funding with the 112th Congress. The main topics explored are diversity and inclusion, financing, and students’ performances,
An article by author Mark Berends, titled “Sociology and School Choice: What We Know After Two Decades of Charter Schools,” was published in the Annual Review of Sociology, remains one of the most heavily cited articles on charter schools and dives deeply into the numerous issues surrounding education. This article discusses theories informing charter school reform, student outcomes, limitations, discussion, and future research. There are now more than 6,000 charter schools educating over 2.5 million children. Berends concludes that “understanding the conditions under which choice options are effective will help scholars push policy debates forward and assess the strengths and weaknesses of market theory and institutional theory,” and calls for more qualitative and quantitative research. Using articles in his discovery and investigation, the evidence was apparent: no research has unequivocally proven charter schools to be more successful, more efficient, or of higher quality without contradicting research about traditional public schools.
Diversity and Inclusion
One of the most common arguments surrounding charter schools is whether they will improve diversity, inclusion and the achievement gap. Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, argued that, “if we allow these charter schools to cherry-pick the students … then you create a situation where the traditional public schools become a dumping ground for the charter school students that are rejected, or for the students whose parents are not engaged and aren’t able to avail themselves of those opportunities.” The ‘cherry-picking’ or selective choosing within a charter school district does nothing but create state-funded private schools for students who would typically be successful in public school atmospheres. This is due to the support they may receive at home through financial and emotional support.
Countering this argument, Wayne Lewis, Educational Leadership professor at the University of Kentucky and former chair of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, pointed out that there is as much as a 30 percentage point achievement gap between black and white students. He further goes on to explain that charter schools can do a better job in helping poor and minority students.4 Charter schools can provide an environment better suited for this socioeconomic class of students and, it forces public schools to be more competitive, improving outcome for their students. This side of the argument is representative of the idea that charter schools are not subject to the curriculum and requirements of an entire district or region, allowing them to be more innovative and better serve the community.
However, with impoverished populations so dense in Kentucky, especially in the urban areas approved for charter schools, does this point about serving students unique to their circumstance eliminate diversity within schools? Would one have to teach poor, wealthy, white, black, or ethnic students in different ways? The difference between equal and equitable education arises here. In school systems, it becomes obvious where the resources provided may be deemed equal, but remain inequitable. It is impossible to remove money from one system, equivalent to the per-pupil price of the original system, and be able to provide equity. Yes, students can benefit in a manner that is unique to their socioeconomic status and identity, but the consequences of educating like this are grave. Students who are educated differently lack an informative world view. These students will grow up to believe they are different, and in some ways, it will solidify more of a socioeconomic divide.
Moreover, a study by Frankenburg demonstrates that charter schools can negatively impact integration. Some might say that we have an integrated society, although this may be true legally, it is not true in practice and definitely not in our institutions. In this study, the results show that “in fifteen states, nearly 70 percent of the black students in charter schools are attending hypersegregated schools, defined as having at least 90 percent minority population,” and “in four of those states, 90 percent of black students attend hypersegregated schools.” If Kentucky is to implement charter schools, they must be aware that diversity, inclusion, and new-age integration are difficult to maintain in charter schools because of their ability to choose their students. If charter schools are seeing hypersegregation in fifteen out of forty states that have approved charter schools, there is bound to be other forms of segregation within populations in the other states.
The U.S. Department of Education has researched the effects of school choice systems in the United States and other countries. When reviewing mobility that school choice and charter schools can provide, the data showed that students in impoverished areas still did not benefit. The original idea was that some students would be able to move from their ‘bad school,’ in their district or cluster to a school with more resources. This viewpoint assumes that students are locked into specific social strata and need to escape it, although the data collected presents an opposing image. Charles Glenn finds that, “only children of the more ambitious and upwardly mobile working-class parents are likely to benefit from a choice program, and that the result is to leave the education for those students who remain behind even more dismal.” The data again disproves the idea that charter schools will naturally integrate themselves through the provision of choice.
Education Outcomes and Performance
The other substantial charter school argument is that it allows for student performance to excel in a new environment, one that is more innovative than the traditional public school system. Bill Honig states that “the lack of accountability for charter schools has allowed significant corruption, diversion of public funds and a high tolerance for low performance.” Charter schools, since their founding, have been poorly put into practice; therefore the system must assure that the schools are monitored by an outside agent. He continues by adding, “even so, one-quarter of charters score worse, and the remainders’ performances are no different from non-charter public schools.”9 The statistics are incapable of contributing to the idea that charter schools improve performance and innovation.
Charter schools exhibiting innovation also seems to be undermined by the fact that, in most states, there still tends to be educational and pedagogical conformity. Lubienski states that “although reformers assume that competition and choice necessarily lead to innovations within schools, a more complex examination of competitive institutional environments suggests that mechanisms employed by reformers may undercut their intended purposes.” Many charter schools eventually end up implementing the same practices used by the traditional public schools to avoid straying from the status quo.
In a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, it was found that students going through the charter school programs that have no impact on school test scores, see a decrease in four-year college enrollment and lifetime earnings. According to this study, if charter schools are unable to improve scores, its students may not be as successful as those who graduate from the public school system. Since student success is dependent on so many factors, it is nearly impossible for Kentucky to guarantee that its charter school programs would be successful, especially without a state funding mechanism in place.
Funding and Fiscal Responsibility
Returning to the notion that charter schools do not help the population they claim to assist, Dobbie and Fryer, economic and education researchers, state, “charters, and their more pernicious cousin, vouchers, attract students who were previously attending private schools paid for by their parents . . . public school budget must then be charged for these additional students.”6 When the budget is going to be granting the same per-pupil cost, it does not sound smart to invite more students into a system that is struggling to pay for its current students who may not be able to afford other options. This eliminates the claim that charter schools are an affordable, cheaper option, as well as the claim that they do not assist low-income communities and socioeconomic integration.
Source: Kentucky Office of Educational Accountability (1990-2010); KCEP analysis
of Kentucky Department of Education and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, CPI-U series (2011-2016)
The funding gap shown above has begun to increase again in recent years. Funding makes a difference in student success rates. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, “when school spending increased by 10 percent over the 12 years a low-income child was in attendance, that child was less likely to be poor as an adult, more likely to graduate from high school, and had a nearly 10 percent increase in earnings as an adult.” The existing proposal to fund is to keep the per-pupil price the same in charter schools, and switch the Support Educational Excellence in Kentucky, SEEK funding, from the traditional public school system to the charter schools.
Improvements had occurred in 1990 due to the introduction of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) that provides more financial assistance to low-wealth school districts. Due to recent budget cuts and funding freezes, gains made with KERA have diminished. Any other funding shifts or freezes will also negatively affect these low-income students. Charter schools shift the majority of the responsibility onto small, local autonomous bodies. This transfer of power to local authorities has an impact of increasing the inequalities among schools. In a study by the Council for Better Education, local contributions to SEEK funding per-pupil increased between 2008 and 2016. Greater local contribution increases the funding gap between wealthy and low-income schools, therefore maintaining the ring of cyclical poverty by not improving the education given to, often, disadvantaged, low-income students.
Source: “Statewide SEEK Overview,” Council for Better Education. 2016.
Kentucky has seriously undermined the consequences of not funding its educational system properly and the national numbers make this very obvious. In the 2016 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in per-student core formula funding, Kentucky was ranked the third worst in the nation.13 Kentucky also received an ‘F’ in Education Week’s “2017 Quality Counts” report regarding education spending. It is clear that Kentucky needs to find a better way to fund their education, a method that can decrease inequalities and make education equitable for all. Legislators are going to be called on to make the improvements necessary or else there will continue to be substantial shifts in the makeup of the House and Senate.
Much of Kentucky’s issues derive from funding. Proposed fixes would include sending more money to the school districts targeted at the areas that require improvements. Moving money to local district charter schools would only increase the inequalities between wealthy and low-income schools, thus crippling the public school system even more. It is time to stop the increase in the funding gap because it connects to the achievement gap; two of the issues the proponents of charter schools claim can be fixed with this bill, but certainly can not. It is unbelievable that, while Kentucky is going through an educational budget crisis, legislators would not target the three most populated districts to allow charter schools, boosting the local money-not state money-spent there.
Overview of Implications and Possible Actions:
Since Kentucky is still searching for a funding resolution for charter schools, the answer may be to pause the implementation process to further continue their research. With all the inconsistencies surrounding charter school data the action would be to look into the main areas of concern with charter schools and apply it to the scenario of what will work best for Kentucky.
Diversity and Inclusion: Course of Action
For Kentucky to have and maintain well-integrated, representative and diverse schools, transportation must be present across districts. In the urban areas of Kentucky where charter schools are approved, it is notably segregated still due to cyclical poverty. To maintain diversity and offset the process of hypersegregation, transportation must be available to those who the school is suitable for, but still do not have transit. The provision of transportation may eliminate concerns from parents who feel apprehensive about sending their child to a school farther away, especially if that parent is working or otherwise unable to provide adequate transportation.
It is increasingly important that schools maintain an environment of inclusivity for the staff, students, and parents. All staff should be educated and be attending continuing education programs on diversity and inclusion. In our ever-changing political climate, education is the key to success in creating an atmosphere of inclusion for everyone. In the case of charter schools, if they want to be diverse and inclusive institutions like their advocates and the legislators claim, all identities, including those suffering from intersectionality – females, minority students and those from low-income backgrounds – must be understood and accepted.
Special education for the enrollees with disabilities must also be addressed. Charter school operators must provide an equitable environment for students who are disabled, whether mentally or physically. Furthermore, they would need to determine special education eligibility, provide additional education services, specialized transportation, and certified and field-trained educators. Kentucky should create a standardized guideline for the inclusivity of special-needs students in charter schools. High-quality charter schools have been capable of successfully implementing these comprehensive guidelines for students with disabilities.7 It is essential that districts diligently look into inclusivity deeper than simply just socioeconomic, racial, or ethnic when striving for high-quality schools. The future of our students and the school system depends on this.
Education Outcomes and Performance: Course of Action
In the legislature for Kentucky charter schools, they require in section 1d of House Bill 520 that the demand only exists for “high-quality charter schools,” although it does not specify what high-quality means. It is fundamental that our legislators do extensive research to assure that charter schools are indeed a positive move in education for Kentucky and that the emphasis focuses on what is best for the student. This means that attention needs to be paid to the states who were most successful in closing the education gap. All across the country, charter schools are failing, remaining the same as traditional public schools, or succeeding only in a few aspects. We need to examine the areas that charter schools are succeeding in, and make sure that we pursue those.
Funding and Fiscal Responsibility: Course of Action
With the constraint of our state’s budget, it is important that charter schools remain nonprofit and transparent to resist fraud by private entities wanting to make a public gain.15 The current plan to fund charter schools is set to make way in the 2019 Legislative Session. Wayne Lewis, the current Commissioner of Education, said that the funding mechanism they will continue to push would be similar to the one they tried to push forward during the original passage of the bill in 2017. Lewis states that these charter schools are “completely dependent” on parents choosing to send their kids to the charter schools for them to receive money. Therefore, if the proponents and supporting legislators want charter schools to actualize, they will have to educate the public on the purpose of charters – including areas that are typically not targeted for school choice advertising or promotion.
Currently, the push to implement charter schools is being pursued quickly by its proponents in Kentucky. Wayne Lewis knows that the conversation must continue for a funding mechanism to be created to support charter schools. Since this coming year is not a budget year, any bill would require a supermajority in the House. A supermajority is achieved when 60 members vote to pass a bill. In this past election, 61 Republicans, the party primarily supporting the bill, were elected. They are expecting this to be one of the busiest non-budgetary sessions to date due to the increasing concerns over the state of the Kentucky’s education system. When the capital becomes busy, full of lobbiers and advocates,oftentimes legislators rush into making decisions or may never reach a decision at all. The decision made must take into consideration public opinion, nonpartisan facts, and avoid favor towards outside entities.
Although the bill has passed, Kentucky Legislature is well aware that there have to be amendments this upcoming session to make charter schools, or their idea of what charter schools could be, come to fruition. With school choice typically being a Republican policy, it seems only natural that the pension crisis could help them promote their agenda. In this case, it seems charter schools are not the correct answer to the dilemma that has arisen through decades of underfunded education. Perhaps, more thought and investigation needs to occur to assure that charter schools can provide an equitable education. What are the deciding factors of who gets chosen and are they fair to everyone? Education is a gift that every child should have the opportunity to unwrap, no matter their race, sex, socioeconomic background or ability. Public schools do not have a voice in who they accept. Accommodation must be made to every child and this costs money. One of the many shortcomings in the charter school dilemma is we can not truly ever know how this will impact Kentucky. I propose that extensive consideration be taken regarding charter schools in Kentucky because we need to have the students’ best interests at heart.
Berends, Mark. “Sociology and School Choice: What We Know After Two Decades of Charter
Schools,” Annual Review of Sociology (41:159-180). August 2015
Cashman, Erin R., Fiore, and Warren. “Charter Schools and Students with Disabilities,” U.S.
Department of Education: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1998: (4). Print.
Dobbie, Willie S., and Roland G. Fryer. “Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes,” NBER
Working Paper No. 22502. August 2016.
Glenn, Charles. Choice of Schools in Six Nations. U.S. Department of Education: Office of
Educational Research and Improvement, 1989: (138). Print.
Gregory, John. “Are Charter Schools Right for Kentucky?,” Kentucky Educational Television. 12
Honeycutt-Spears, Valerie. “Charter Schools could come to Lexington anytime. This man wants
you to know more,” Lexington Herald-Leader. 9/14/2018. https://www.kentucky.com/news/local/education/article214955305.html
Honig, Bill. “Why Conventional School ‘Reforms” Have Failed: Charter Schools Are Not the
Key to Improving Public Education,” Building Better Schools.
Jackson, C. Kirabo, Rucker C. Johnson, and Claudia Perico. “The Effects of School Spending on
Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms,” NBER
Working Paper No. 2084- National Bureau of Economic Research. January 2014. Web.
Krauth, Olivia. “Kentucky education chief to push for charter funding in 2019,” Insider
Louisville. 9 November 2018.
Lubienski, C. (2003). Innovation in education markets: Theory and evidence on the impact of
competition and choice in charter schools. American Educational Research Journal, 40, 395-443
Savrock, Joe. “Frankenberg Research Shows Segregation in Charter Schools,” Penn State
College of Education: News and Publications. February 2011. https://ed.psu.edu/news/releases-jan-mar-2011/frankenberg-charter-research
Kentucky Public Charter School Association, https://www.kentuckycharters.org/.
“Issue Brief: Charter Schools,” National School Boards Association. Feb. 2014.
“KCEP analysis of Kentucky Department of Education and Bureau of Labor Statistics data,”
Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. Kypolicy.org.
“Statewide SEEK Overview,” Council for Better Education. 2016.