On Tuesday, March 22, 2022, Kentucky’s House Education Committee voted to move forward a version of a bill that had been stalled in the General Assembly since 2017. The reason it has been stalled is because the majority of the Kentucky population recognizes the threat that charter schools pose to their districts and especially to their community’s students of color, LBGTQ+ students, and students with disabilities. In smaller, rural districts, the threat is also recognized, which is why a last-minute adjustment was made to exclude districts with less than 7,500 students from this funding requirement. The bill’s sponsor, Chad McCoy, represents one of those excluded districts, I hear. Guess he wasn’t willing to lose votes over harming children in his own district, just “other people’s children.” . More proof that these dark-money funded bills are based on myths, not facts.

HB9 is the latest iteration of Kentucky’s Charter School “funding mechanism” bill, which allows the “money to follow the child” to a charter school or private school (using vouchers) of their “choice.” The bill was originally assigned to the House A&R Committee. A highly respected K-Group sent around an email warning a handful of colleagues that they expected it to be heard on Tuesday, March 15. That meeting was canceled.

Myself, some JCPS students and their teacher showed up that morning, and since none of the bills we were opposed to were on that day’s agenda, we signed up to speak in favor of another bill in the House Education Committee. I made mention of the fact that the A&R committee meeting had been canceled and I provided several reasons why Jefferson County stakeholders (the largest district in the state and the greatest source of taxpayer dollars that are distributed to the rest of the state) are opposed to a plethora of harmful bills, three of which wound up on the Committee’s agenda the following week at the last minute. How is that?

The email informing the public of not only the earlier meeting time, but also the addition of HB9, SB138 and SB1 to the agenda, was not sent out until 8:11 PM the night before the meeting. Less than 12 hours’ notice that such a destructive bill was even being considered. Hardly enough time for impacted community members, teachers, parents and students to process what was happening, much less organize and mobilize to get people to arrive before 8 AM in Frankfort (nearly an hour away from Jefferson County).

There apparently weren’t enough votes to move the bill out of House A&R, so they must have shopped committees and decided that they would have enough votes to get it out of the already stacked House Education Committee if they replaced a committee member with the bill sponsor, Chad McCoy. So they did. House Representative Lisa Willner calls out this underhanded process in more detail during her explanation of her “No” vote, in the below video, which captures the majority of the discussion and speakers who showed up, despite the short notice, to speak against it.

These dark-money backed lawmakers are easy to spot because they use the same doublespeak that they learned from the ALEC Playbook, and they run unopposed or they have well-financed campaigns that make them impossible to unseat. They manage to stay in power, despite their horrendous voting records, using heavily orchestrated theatrics and distractions. Fact of the matter is, charter schools do not produce any better outcomes than public schools, and now, more than ever, we should be focused on pouring every ounce of support and resources into public schools, which are experiencing a mass exodus of talent, in large part due to the disrespect shown to them by lawmakers and community leaders. This study shows, and we agree, there are 106 things that are more effective at improving outcomes than trying the failed charter school experiment. That’s the reason this bill has not moved since 2017, not the disingenuous reasons cited by the bill sponsor, who admits he’s new to the process. Instead of sending tax dollars and low-cost/high-return performing students away from our public schools, let’s invest in them.

Some of the myths:

The money should follow the child” – Not every child has the same needs. Students living in poverty, trauma, or with disabilities must have other needs met before they can become efficient learners. Charter schools, through their application process as well as subjective behavior and discipline policies, have the ability, not only to pick and choose who gets in and stays in their schools, but they have the ability to use taxpayer dollars for religious indoctrination and discrimination. We already know that the “money follows the child” philosophy is inequitable and discriminatory, it also violates the Kentucky Constitution, and will be challenged and likely overturned in court. Instead of saying the money should follow the child, we say, “follow the money.”

Parents should be able to choose” – One of the main reasons bill supporters want this bill is so they can force Jefferson County to open a charter, against the objections of those who taxpayers elected (and who they appointed) to make these decisions. They claim it’s to help our minority students, yet the minority population in our district is among the most outspoken in opposition. (The Black pastors McCoy refers to in his testimony were debunked and discredited repeatedly when the bill was being pushed in 2017. They were part of the Bevin administration’s push and that dark money continues to fuel the disinformation to this day.) The schools are who chooses who gets in and who stays in, not the applicants, so this “jingle” is a lie. Furthermore, JCPS already is a “district of choice.” We don’t need to add another charter school to the mix. We already have those. They are exclusive magnets that have been allowed to stray from their original purpose and intent. If parents are upset because their school doesn’t have the same resources or opportunities as another school, we have the power to do something about that. Or at least we did, until SB1 becomes law. Instead there is a mentality that there are “good schools” and “bad schools” and some do everything they can to flock to the “good schools.” If they don’t get in, they send their kids to private school or leave the county. This is, I believe, the unspoken reason some parents demand “choice” and it’s called “white flight.” It should not be supported with our tax dollars nor should it be codified in law.

Below is a screenshot of the House Representatives who voted for the bill, including JCTA-favorite Jason Nemes. It passed with 51 votes, just one more vote than is required during a budget year. No one has been able to explain to me how someone who continuously sponsors, endorses and supports anti-JCPS legislation can continue to remain in favor with the teachers’ union and his Jefferson County constituents.

Tom Shelton is the former Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, former superintendent in Daviess County Public Schools and in Fayette County Public Schools, and was named eSchool News Magazine 2009 Tech-savvy Superintendent of the Year and the AASA Kentucky Superintendent of the Year in 2011. He knows a thing or two about public education and shady lawmakers.

There was a lot of talk on Tuesday about how the charter school bill was already law and that HB9 is just the funding piece. Well, there are reasons our teachers sicked out in 2017, and again in 2018, and one of them was to stop this bill, and we did so by stopping the funding mechanism. For it to come out of the chute with less than 12 hours’ notice and fly through the House like it did, and then act like “there was plenty of opportunity to make it better” is disingenuous. We don’t want a better BAD bill. We want to #StopChartersInKY. And what bill sponsor McCoy and all House Reps who were behind this assault was unethical and likely illegal. They know the bill is unconstitutional but they don’t care, because by the time we “sue them to stop them” they will have gotten more of their talons in our children’s necks and our pocketbooks. And those who voted in favor have had plenty of time to learn who is behind these bills and what their motives are, so, as Tom Shelton advises, we must vote them out.

But in the mean time, we MUST STOP IT IN THE SENATE! Please get on the phones and leave messages (800-372-7181), send emails, show up! Next Wednesday is the last day before the VETO period, and it could come out any time between now and then.

This story is still developing and may be updated. Because HB9 could move to the Senate Education Committee as early as today, we will continue to try to bring you what we know as soon as possible. Today is their last scheduled standing meeting, but they can call one at any time. Next Wednesday, March 30, 2022 is the last day the bill can pass the Senate and still leave the legislators with enough time to override the Governor’s Veto.

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