February 24, 2012

 

Charter School Bill Stirs Controversy
by Peter Hancock | Kansas Education Policy Report

(Feb. 20, 2012) The House Education Budget Committee heard testimony today on a bill aimed at greatly expanding the number of charter schools in Kansas by removing local school boards from the decision-making process.

Instead of giving local school districts sole discretion to authorize charter schools in their area, as current law provides, HB 2580 (http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2011_12/measures/hb2580/) would establish a Public Charter School Commission under the auspices of the State Board of Education.

That commission, in turn, would designate “authorizers” of public charter schools, the entities that would actually issue charters, and set up and run the charter schools. Those authorizers would include local school boards, but could also include other organizations: public and private post-secondary institutions, local governments and nonprofit organizations.

Charter schools established under the law would receive the same funding as public schools under the school finance formula. But they would be exempt from having to administer state assessments, as long as their contract calls for some other form of measuring student achievement.

Further, their faculty would be exempt from having to meet state licensing requirements, and their employees would not be required to be members of any collective bargaining agreement between a school district and its employees. They would, however, be eligible to participate in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Chiquita Coggs, who founded a charter school in Kansas City USD 500 that lasted two years and was closed in 2010 (http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/Charter%20Schools/Closed%20Charter%20Schools%202011.pdf), said local districts are reluctant to authorize charter schools that they do not control themselves.

“If a school district is petitioned for by any group outside the local school district, the likelihood of its approval is minimal at best,” Coggs told the committee. “What school district, or any other organization for that matter, will authorize the implementation of a perceived competitor? The best way to eliminate the competition is to prevent it.”

The bill was introduced at the request of Rep. Connie O’Brien (http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2011_12/members/rep_obrien_connie_1/) (R-Tonganoxie) who said Kansas needs to provide students and their families with more choice in education.

“Students in traditional public schools who need an alternative besides private schools are looking to charter schools to fill that gap,” O’Brien said.

But Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville), who chairs the separate House Education Committee, questioned whether such a law would run afoul of the state Constitution, which vests the power of general supervision over public schools to the State Board of Education.

Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards also raised that same issue in his testimony. He said Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution (http://www.kslib.info/government-information/kansas-information/kansas-constitution/article-six-education.html) is clear on the point that the State Board is responsible for supervising public schools. He said that includes setting standards for accrediting public schools.

Other opponents of the bill included the Kansas National Education Association, United School Administrators of Kansas and Topeka USD 501.

 

© 2012, Hancock Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Reposted here with permission.