Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 10
Kentucky's Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
Charters, changes to
K-12 law coming
traction as the focus on passing a
charter school measure took precedence.
But Jefferson County still faces
potential intervention from state
officials. Pruitt, the state education commissioner, earlier this year
launched an audit of the district for
what he described as concerns over
student safety, poor culture and
communication. The audit could potentially lead to a state takeover of
By Daarel Burnette II
& Denisa R. Superville
Changes to Core K-12 Law
After years of ill-fated attempts,
Kentucky is on a sure-footed path
to becoming the 44th state to allow
charter schools, one of two sweeping
measures the legislature passed this
session that promises to reshape the
state's K-12 education system.
Kentucky's new majority of Republican lawmakers-supported by
a GOP governor-approved legislation to allow charter schools, start a
process that could change or eventually repeal the Common Core State
Standards, and strike at the core of
the state's unusual governance of
Strongly backed by Republican
Gov. Matt Bevin-who took the unusual step of testifying before education committees in the House and
Senate-the charter legislation empowers local school boards and mayors to authorize charter schools. The
bill sets no limits on the number of
charters that can open.
The sweeping overhaul of the
state's central K-12 education law-
in place since 1990 and seen for
years as a model for raising student
achievement on a broad scale-would
bring about major changes to who
controls decisionmaking over academic standards, curricula, and hiring at the school level.
But Republicans failed to muster
enough support to dismantle longstanding integration efforts in the
state's largest school system-the
Jefferson County district, which includes the city of Louisville.
Overall, the coming changes to
Kentucky's K-12 landscape are
"hopeful" and potentially put the
state on track to take its "next giant
leap on behalf of student achievement," if state officials provide adequate oversight and fiscal support,
said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, the
executive director of the Prichard
Committee for Academic Excellence,
a nonpartisan education think tank
in the state.
While the Kentucky Education
Reform Act has been the state's
main vehicle for increasing education spending, empowering parents
to participate in school-level decisionmaking, and raising student
achievement for more than two decades, state education officials now
say the law has run its course.
The gains it helped bring about
for disadvantaged students have
stalled in recent years, especially
for the state's black and Latino children, officials say, and the state's
lawmakers saw the federal Every
Student Succeeds Act as an opportunity to chart a new path.
"This will be our next shot in the
arm," Stephen Pruitt, Kentucky's
education commissioner, said of the
legislation known as SB 1, which
was awaiting final approval late last
week in the House.
Expected to be signed by Bevin,
the bill drew widespread support,
Kentucky state Sen. David Givens, a Republican, argues in favor of a bill allowing charter schools last week at the
state capitol in Frankfort. Some Kentucky lawmakers have tried for years to pass a charter school law.
including from the state's teachers'
union, the superintendents association, and conservative and rural
But the plan was strongly opposed by the state's most grassroots
level of local control: the thousands
of parents, teachers and principals
who, under the 1990 act, won authority to hire principals, select
curriculum, set a school's budget,
and experiment with new teaching
methods. While parents elsewhere
may envy such local input, superintendents and state officials say it's
"My biggest fear with this bill is
we're going to see a reduction in
true local decisionmaking," said
Lynne Slone, a lobbyist and lawyer for the Kentucky Association of
School Councils, prior to the bill's
The Prichard Committee praised
most of SB 1, but said the legislature should go further and increase
funding to help public schools cope
with an ongoing fiscal crisis, review
the state's 27-year-old funding formula, and set new and ambitious
Charter Measure Prevails
While charter school bills had
been proposed in Kentucky before,
passage seemed a given this year
after Republicans took control of the
legislature last fall, on the heels of
Gov. Bevin's victory in 2015.
Republican supporters said with
Kentucky's late entry into the charter game, the state has the advantage of emulating successes and
avoiding mistakes made by those
that were earlier adopters.
State Sen. Mike Wilson, the chairman of the Senate's education committee, said pastors in the Louisville
and Lexington black communities
have "begged" the legislature for
years to allow charter schools.
10 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 22, 2017 | www.edweek.org
"I think that charter schools show
that they have the most success in
urban areas where you have kids in
poverty, and that's where we have
some of the biggest achievement
gaps," Wilson said ahead of the measure's full passage.
While Democrats in many states
embrace charter schools, the Kentucky bill passed largely along party
lines. Republican proponents argued
that charter schools will provide
more schooling options for families
and students, particularly students
who are at risk of academic failure.
Democrats in the legislature argued that charters will divert already scarce resources from traditional public schools.
The bill allows parents, teachers, and nonprofits to apply to open
charter schools, and for-profit companies would be allowed to run
charters under contracts with those
entities that receive charter approval.
Under the legislation, individual
local school boards or a collective of
local school boards can be charter
authorizers. Mayors could also potentially authorize charters.
Charters would only be allowed to
hire teachers who are state-certified,
a rule that some charter supporters said stifles flexibility that the
schools need to innovate. The bill explicitly bans the opening of virtual
charter schools, which have a spotty
track record in many other states.
The Jefferson County school board
opted to try and shape the bill's final
form and succeeded in some cases.
Among the provisions it sought:
the ban on virtual charters, local
school boards as sole authorizers,
hiring of certified teachers, and no
for-profit charter operators.
Chris Brady, the chairman of the
Jefferson County board, said charters are not the best way to improve
the state's education system on a
broad scale. Stability in the system
as well as increased financial support for traditional public schools
would be more effective, he said.
"Charter schools seem to be a silver bullet for some," he said. "They
look at public school results without
looking at poverty levels and how
persistent and endemic it is."
Randy Poe, the superintendent of
the 21,000-student Boone County
district in Florence, Ky., said he's not
categorically opposed to charters.
"Given the right situation, charter
schools can be an effective tool," Poe
said. "What I would prefer is that
the state would release us from the
rules and regulations they are willing to give charter schools to begin
with, without me having to create a
dual, parallel system."
Louisville in Crosshairs
At the top of the Republicans'
agenda early this session was a socalled "neighborhood schools" bill
that would have made districts give
students preference to attend the
school nearest their home. Many
viewed the measure as a direct attack on Jefferson County's longrunning initiative to keep its schools
racially and socioeconomically balanced.
Many parents and residents say
the district's complex school-assignment process that relies heavily on
busing students to schools far beyond their neighborhoods has led to
academic improvements, especially
for black students on the city's impoverished west side.
Every school board candidate who
has run on a platform opposing the
school assignment plan in recent
years has lost, Brady said.
But some conservative lawmakers
said the district's integration efforts
have run their course, scrambled
community cohesion, and yielded
lackluster academic results.
Still, the measure failed to gain
In 1990, in response to a damning state supreme court decision
that deemed its schools unconstitutional, Kentucky's general assembly enacted a series of academic
goals that led to a radical overhaul
of the financing and delivery of its
Over the next decade, the state
increased by more than $1 billion
its spending on public education,
capped local spending, and targeted millions more dollars toward
poor students. The state also used
the funding formula to introduce a
standards- and performance-based
model that provided bonuses to
teachers and schools for test gains.
To limit the influence of politics
on K-12 policy, lawmakers bolstered the powers of the state's
commissioner of education and
set up school-based decisionmaking councils made up of parents,
teachers, and principals. The councils can hire principals, choose curriculum, and establish budgets for
In education circles, that overhaul cast Kentucky as a bellwether
state for school reform. Its testing,
teacher bonuses, and school funding model were replicated under the
federal No Child Left Behind Act.
But inside the state, the law was
controversial, and Republicans over
the years disputed the state's touted
academic gains and questioned the
program's monetary value.
Kentucky again became a frontrunner on the national K-12 scene
when it became the first state to
adopt the common core in 2010,
spurred in part by the federal Race
to the Top grant competition issued by the Obama administration.
Over the next several years, the
state instituted, and then dumped,
a series of new standardized tests
and accountability systems, agitating teachers and parents and animating the state's cantankerous
tea party activists, who complained
about federal intrusion.
Bevin successfully ran in 2015 on
a platform to slash away at state
government and to abolish the
state's common standards, which
he said on a radio show were a liberal conspiracy to "foist down the
throats of our young people" the
theory that Republicans hate poor
Republicans across the nation
this year have fawned over Kentucky's ability to pass in quick succession a series of staple GOP legislation. Just two weeks into this
year's session, Bevin signed a bill
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 22, 2017
Education Week - March 22, 2017
The Hard Work of Making School ‘For Everybody’
Parents See Benefits in Spec. Ed. Vouchers But No Silver Bullet
Trump Education Dept. Has Yet to Hit the Gas
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
News in Brief
Social Media Connects Students to Authors
Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
ESSA Rules’ Rollback Complicates States’ Planning Process
Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Chris Doyle: Fake News Isn’t New
Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 7
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 11
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 12
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 13
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 14
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 15
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 18
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 19
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 20
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 21
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 22
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 23
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Readers React
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 29
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 30
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 31
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW4