Charting the waters of the charter school debate

Taylor Huff

He’s a die-hard conservative, accredited universities want nothing to do with him and he eats Democrats for breakfast. No, I’m not talking about Donald “Obama tapped this” Trump. This week the spotlight is on Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin: a full-fledged supporter of House Bill 520.

In my most recent column about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, I mentioned the concept of charter schools. Essentially, these schools are run by independent charter organizations but are still funded by the public. They’re also on the verge of being introduced to Kentucky school systems in the form of HB 520.

Just this past week, HB 520 passed through the Kentucky House of Representatives with a vote of 56-39. Despite its majority support from the House and Bevin, there are those who continue to oppose the bill. Opponents, including Bowling Green Representative Jody Richards, D-Ky., argue the proposed bill takes away too much power from locally elected school boards.

The bill does give the power to authorize charter schools in the state to local school boards. However, the Kentucky Board of Education holds the power to settle disputes between local school boards and charter organizations. In other words, locally elected education officials do not have a final say on whether or not a charter school will be authorized in their area.

So, who appoints members to the Kentucky Board of Education you may ask? According to Kentucky’s Department of Education website, the governor has the power to appoint 11 voting members to the state board of education, there are 12 members total.

Surely Bevin can’t be using this vote, which could hold irreversible consequences for our public schools, as a platform for flexing his political authority. There’s no way he has a history of pulling controversial stunts to promote his own partisan agenda.

It turns out, he does!

Just ask our friends over at the University of Louisville, a school that nearly lost its accreditation after Bevin removed the presiding board of trustees. This could have had a disastrous effect on the value of UofL degrees, research dollars and financial aid for students.

Who can forget when early on in his term, one of Bevin’s more widely circulated stunts when he criticized Kentucky House Democrats in a video he made from their own empty House Chamber. While he berated them for wasting tax dollars and not getting anything done, the democrats were actually right across the street working on a transportation budget in the Capitol Annex.

He didn’t have to do these things. Bevin saw the opportunity to flaunt his power over people who couldn’t challenge him. Unfortunately, it’s likely he will soon hold great influence over the charter school debate for the foreseeable future.

What does this say to the hard-working public school teacher who will now be compared to charter school teachers that don’t work under the same government regulations? Having been a public school student my entire life, I cannot approve of this bill nor the actions of our governor.

So what’s next for HB 520? The bill faces its last obstacle to being passed as the Senate Education Committee votes on it within the next few weeks. According to Committee Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Ky., he talks of being “pretty confident” a charter bill will pass.