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Kentucky charter school supporters remain hopeful even after court ruling

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(The Center Square) – Proponents of charter schools in Kentucky say they’re not deterred by a ruling from a Franklin Circuit Court judge who found a law requiring funding sources for the schools to violate the state’s constitution.

The Bluegrass Institute said the legality of House Bill 9 passed by the General Assembly in its 2022 session will lie with the Kentucky Supreme Court. The public policy think tank called Judge Phillip Shepherd’s decision a loss for families not being served by “failing schools” across the state and are being denied a public option available in 45 states.

“That court should consider the fact that these schools are changing the educational trajectory of millions of at-risk students nationwide,” the institute said. “Surely, our commonwealth’s founders would not have opposed such an important and positive policy.”

Kentucky lawmakers legalized charter schools nearly seven years ago after Republicans took control of the state House, which gave the party total control of the legislative and executive branches then. However, the initial law did not include a funding mechanism for the privately run schools.

HB9 calls for students at a charter school to be included in the attendance formulas used by the state for funding the public school districts. Any charter school in the district would receive a proportion of the district’s funding allocation, with exclusions for funds dedicated to debt service, construction or renovation projects and other district uses.

Despite Republican supermajorities in both chambers, the bill did meet some resistance. It passed the House on a 51-46 vote. It would become law after getting 52 yes votes to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto.

Todd Ziebarth, the vice president for state advocacy with the National Alliance for Charter Schools, said in a statement that opponents of the law argued that charter schools are not public schools, an argument that has been dismissed in other states.

“Just like we’ve prevailed in other states, we believe the Kentucky Supreme Court will ultimately side with families in the Bluegrass State so they will have the public education choices they deserve. We stand with the people of Kentucky and look forward to appealing this decision,” he said.

School choice has been a high-profile issue in Frankfort for years. Besides the charter school legislation, Republicans have also championed educational opportunity accounts that would allow Kentucky families to send their children to private schools or public schools outside of their home district. Legislation for that, though, has also been ruled unconstitutional, which has prompted GOP lawmakers to consider proposing a constitutional amendment for the 2024 general election ballot.

House Democratic leaders, who cited Shepherd’s ruling as a victory, said lawmakers can “only authorize and fund public education” per the constitution.

“We said that in 2017, when charter schools were first approved; we said that again in 2022, when the law rejected today was passed; and we’ll say it once more in 2024 when there will be yet another attempt to route public tax dollars into private schools,” said Minority Floor Leader Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort; Caucus Chair Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington; and Minority Whip Rachel Roberts, D-Newport. “Our belief is simple: Follow the constitution and give public education our undivided support.”

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