Empowering parents through choice in education should be a priority

Published 3:33 pm Friday, April 29, 2022

By Rep. Matt Lockett

Now that the General Assembly has passed a charter school funding mechanism in House Bill 9, I would like to address the flurry of misinformation surrounding this legislation.

Parental desire to be involved in their student's education sits at an all-time high. Parents want to have a say in what their children are being taught. To me, this is common sense. Parents should be empowered and have the fundamental right to make decisions about how their children are educated.

Currently, school choice exists in our communities, but that possibility only exists for people with the means to afford private school. Homeschooling is also becoming a popular choice. It is our responsibility as a state to provide a great education to our children. It should also be our responsibility to ensure parents have freedom and a clear choice in their child’s learning experience.

My focus is on making sure that every child has the opportunity to learn. Unfortunately, socioeconomic and achievement gaps have only widened in our public schools. According to www.kentuckyreportcard.com, by the Kentucky Department of Education, 83% of minority students graduate high school, while their white counterparts have a graduation rate of 92%. This achievement gap must not be ignored.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 63% of 8th grade minority students in Kentucky test below a basic understanding of 8th grade math, while 30% of their white counterparts test below a basic understanding of the same topic. Similarly, 53% of black 4th grade students in Kentucky read below grade level, while 27% of white 4th grade students read below grade level.

I believe that all educators and administrators alike would agree that we must close this achievement gap. But how? The answer to that question begins with offering educational opportunities and alternatives to meet the needs of every student.

Supporting public education has been a hallmark of my time in Frankfort, and the legislature continues our commitment to public classrooms with record funding levels. Earlier this session, we passed a state budget with record-high funding for public education, a total of 52% of the entire state budget, with $2.2 million going to Jessamine County Schools this year alone.

But year after year, Kentucky kids rank below the national average in reading, math, science, and writing on-demand. With students falling behind, we must clear the way for alternatives that will strengthen Kentucky’s public education system.

Recently, a letter was emailed to each parent with a child in Jessamine County Schools.

However, many of the concerns laid out in the letter are factually inaccurate. It is true Kentucky has allowed for charters since 2017, but none have opened since there was no funding

mechanism in place. Charters cannot exist without one. But, it has little to do with profitability of the charter school applicant. In fact, most charter schools are non-profit organizations.

Despite the rhetoric, your taxpayer dollars will not be siphoned off or threatened. This legislation will not functionally gut or take money away from Kentucky’s public education system since these are public charter schools. This legislation simply clarifies that state education dollars follow an individual student, not a particular school or district.

This will not divert local taxes to other counties since those resources do not follow a student as state funds do. In fact, it would be unconstitutional for the General Assembly to force collected tax dollars from particular district into another district. The funding measure for charter schools only applies to the state portion of student funding for education.  

Some seem to believe this legislation puts taxpayer dollars at risk of waste, fraud, and abuse.

We’ve spent the last five years crafting a deliberate, thoughtful approach that is much stricter and has greater safeguards than other states. The application process for a charter school to open is rigorous and under the supervision of the local school board. The bill additionally kick starts two public charter school pilot projects—one in Jefferson County and another in Northern Kentucky.

I strongly believe in local control of our schools, and this legislation is the most concrete example yet that local decisions are best made by those who are impacted by them. It will not undermine that belief as the only authorizers of public charter schools remain locally elected school boards. In the case of an urban county government (Fayette and Jefferson Counties), the mayor also may approve a charter school.

If a school board denies a charter school application, and the student population within the district is above 7,500 students (Jessamine County), the applicant may appeal that decision to the Kentucky Department of Education for assistance. The local school board establishes the contract with the charter school and can demand the oversight and accountability that they deem necessary. That is local control. If there is no demand from parents or students, then there will be no public charter school.

Remember, the only way a public charter school receives funding from the state is when enough parents choose to send their children to the school. There is no other funding mechanism. If parents don’t choose the school, one will not exist. So, why would we not give parents every option to provide the best education possible to their children?

Critics have also expressed concerns that this legislation does not require public charter schools to serve all students. Let me be clear—charter schools are public schools, which means they must comply with the same rigorous state accountability and admissions standards.

They cannot discriminate or cherry-pick which students get to attend. Further, if a parent believes that the charter school cannot meet the needs of their student, they will most likely not apply for their student to attend.  

It’s easy to argue how we think education should be structured. One thing we know is that when charter schools are implemented properly, they can be very successful, benefiting the communities and students who need them most.

This is why I proposed forming an official workgroup within the General Assembly this year to examine issues and study improvements that can be made to Kentucky’s charter school structure.

We will be bringing together legislators, superintendents, teachers and social workers to examine issues and strengthen Kentucky’s charter school framework. In the end, we all want what is best for our students and help give them the best education possible.

As your state representative, I fully support the public schools in our community. Both of my children have been raised in Jessamine County Schools and I will continue to be a voice for students, parents and educational choice. One size or education model does not fit all students, which is why we must effectively open doors more broadly to parents and students of all income levels in our commonwealth.

I believe that starts with individual freedom and choice. My support for parents and students is why I voted to approve HB 9, empowering and giving parents a say in their child’s education and giving them the opportunity to choose where their child will learn and have the best opportunity to succeed.

As always, you can reach me at matt.lockett@lrc.ky.gov. I value your feedback and comments. Together, we can make Kentucky’s education system the best in the nation. I believe we can all agree on that.