So, what is a Kentucky charter school?

Nearly 10 years after charter school legislation was first introduced in the Bluegrass State, the Kentucky legislature approved House Bill 520 earlier this year, joining 43 others states and the District of Columbia to expand educational opportunities for K-12 public school children through the creation of charter schools.

Sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman John Carney (RCampbellsville), H.B. 520 allows publicly funded charter schools to operate in Kentucky with the first schools likely to open their doors as soon as the 2018-2019 school year.

It is expected that there will be some confusion among stakeholders – from traditional public school teachers and administrators, to parents and other taxpayers – about what charter schools are and how they operate.

Let’s start with the legislature’s purpose, as clearly stated in the new law, in allowing for the creation of charter schools, which includes the foundation on which all charters are created: to allow schools freedom and flexibility in exchange for exceptional levels of results-driven accountability.

Recognizing that past and current measures have been insufficient for making progress toward reducing
Kentucky’s achievement gaps (as clearly stated in the law), those who support H.B. 520 also hope to improve student learning by encouraging the use of different, high-quality models of teaching, governing, scheduling or other aspects of education that meet a variety of student needs.

So, what are Kentucky charter schools, and how are they different than traditional public schools?

Charter schools are public schools, that do not charge tuition, do not have any entrance requirements and do not discriminate against students on any basis. Charter schools have more flexibility and autonomy to serve individual student needs and are afforded exemptions from statutes and administrative regulations – except those related to health, safety, civil rights and disability rights of students, and they are committed to meet higher standards of accountability as dictated in a charter contract.

What does the structure of charter schools — which are now part of Kentucky’s system of public education — look like?

School operators (which may be individual school leaders, independent operators or education service providers) are accountable to not-forprofit governing boards, which enter into charter contracts with school authorizers.The Kentucky Department of Education provides regulation and oversight. The relationship looks like this:

Graphic showing oversight and responsibilities for KY charter schools.Under state law, charter schools must ensure that students meet compulsory attendance requirements, ensure students’ participation in required state assessments, adhere to all generally accepted accounting principles and financial audits, and comply with open records and open meeting requirements.

Charters must hire only qualified teachers, and ensure that criminal background checks are conducted for all staff and volunteers, including members of governing boards.

They must provide instructional time that is at least equivalent to that of traditional public schools, and must design educational programs to meet or exceed the student performance standards adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education.

A charter school is a not-for-profit public body and has all of the powers necessary for carrying out the terms of its contract between its board and authorizer. This contract serves as the foundation for the school’s accountability.

Next, Adkins & Company will dig deeper into Kentucky’s new charter school law, focusing on charter school authorizers and their applications and agreements with charter school governing boards.

This article is the first in a series published by Adkins & Company, a Kentucky-based consulting group whose mission is to position charter schools for success by providing boards, operators and authorizers with access to high quality services and expertise.

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