If Kentucky is to become the 44th state to allow charter schools, the opposition won’t go down without a fight.
That much was clear at an anti-charter school rally held Monday night at Nolin RECC. Speakers from Hardin County, Elizabethtown, Radcliff, Jefferson County and Kentucky Education Association sounded an alarm about House Bill 520, one of the three bills proposed by Kentucky lawmakers that could authorize charter schools.
“We are advocating for the children of Hardin County and Kentucky,” said Regina Boone, president of the Hardin County Education Association. “Frankfort has to know that children of Kentucky are not for sale to the highest corporate bidder.”
The main concerns of attendees and speakers focused on the funding of charter schools and uncertainty over how it would affect public schools. Under HB 520, which was proposed by Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville, local and state taxes would pay for charter schools.
The bill also allows online charter schools and it vests authority to establish charter schools with local school boards. If the board denies the application, it can be appealed to the Kentucky Department of Education.
The speakers framed the charter school debate as a fight for public education in Kentucky and urged those in attendance to call their legislators and express specific reasons for their opposition. Those in the crowd held signs and wore stickers declaring their love for public schools.
Stephanie Macy, a teacher at T.K. Stone Middle School in Elizabethtown, said she doesn’t see the need for charter schools.
“If our kids are doing well, then why are we even having this conversation?” she asked at the end of the event. Macy was concerned about the effect charters could have on existing public schools.
Macy attended the rally with her two daughters, Leah and Loren, who attend Morningside Elementary in Elizabethtown. Both girls spoke favorably about their experience at the school.
“I feel that it’s awesome,” said Loren, who is in second grade and wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
Loren liked that her teachers make learning fun and go over the assignments to make sure students understood concepts.
Michelle Richardson, a fifth-grade teacher at G.C. Burkhead Elementary School in Elizabethtown, said she was concerned about funding provisions in the bill.
“It’s going to drain funds from the schools,” she said.
April May has two children in Hardin County schools, and she attended the rally to receive more information about the bill and charter schools. She said her kindergartener, who has a developmental disability, has grown by “leaps and bounds” with the help of the school’s speech therapist.
May was concerned about students with special needs. She said they might be left behind in charter schools. She also was worried about the charter schools leading to increased segregation and a decrease in diversity.
“I don’t know if the perceived benefits could outweigh those factors,” she said.
Dori Sedano, a Hardin County Schools parent, spoke last at the rally about her experience with charter schools in Michigan. She pulled her daughter, who was in kindergarten at the time, out of the school after six months.
“We did better at home,” Sedano said.
At the school, her daughter would sit in a corner and read, doing little else all day. She said the six months left her daughter demoralized about school.
“No child deserves that,” she said, adding Hardin County has “wonderful schools.”
Hardin County Schools board chairman Charlie Wise said he couldn’t find anything good in HB 520.
Hardin County Schools Superintendent Teresa Morgan was not at the rally, but she detailed her concerns about the bill in a statement. Morgan said she appreciated the fact local boards would have authorizing authority, but she was concerned about the provision to allow virtual schools and for-profit charters.
The Elizabethtown Independent School Board was the first school board in the state to pass a resolution opposing charter schools. Board chairman Matt Wyatt said last week he viewed charter schools as a “threat to public education.”
His message Monday night was similar.
“If we pass charter school legislation and vouchers in Kentucky, we will be going backward not forward,” Wyatt told the crowd.
Other speakers echoed that sentiment. Elizabethtown board member Tony Kuklinski, who invited children from the audience to stand with him during his remarks. He said the bill would send education in Kentucky back to the Stone Age.
“This will start the collapse of the education system that we worked so hard to build,” Kuklinski said.