Kentucky's Board of Education helped pave the way for charter schools during its meeting Wednesday by approving a list of guidelines for lawmakers to consider should they take up the issue in next year's legislative session.
Among the board members was Gary Houchens, an associate professor at Western Kentucky University in the Department of Educational Administration, Leadership and Research. Houchens spoke to the Daily News on Thursday about the board's decision.
"I think what the board endorsed yesterday was mostly a set of principles that even charter school advocates could enthusiastically support," Houchens said.
The board approved the list of best practices following a study session last month where members met to hear from charter school researchers in an effort to learn what has and hasn't worked. Charter schools, according to the Kentucky Department of Education, are public schools with a performance-based contract that details governance, funding, accountability and flexibility from regulations. They're approved by an authorizer, like a local school board, who then monitors the school's efforts.
"What the board collectively was most concerned with was ensuring there’s strong oversight and accountability for charter schools in Kentucky," Houchens said.
The board accomplished that by recommending local boards of education be authorizers, according to a release from the Kentucky Department of Education that laid out the principles. Under the board's guidelines, multiple authorizers should be nonsectarian and nonprofit entities, such as local governments or universities. Ultimately, the Kentucky Board of Education would have the final say when a school board's decision is appealed.
The board also recommended that charter schools be run by nonprofit and nonsectarian groups and not run wholly or partially governed by religious denominations or affiliates. It also suggested having the schools focus on disadvantaged students, have teachers that are certified the same way as public school teachers, be accessible to any student and be held accountable to the same standards as public schools.
Although Houchens disagrees with having a sole authorizer, he said he wants to build bridges rather than quibble about details.
"It was more important to me that we emphasize what we could agree on," Houchens said.
Superintendent Gary Fields of the Bowling Green Independent School District said he appreciated the board's research efforts and well-conceived principles. He agrees with the recommendation to make local school boards the sole authorizer for charter schools.
"I think it’s a thoughtful approach to a very complicated issue," he said. "I appreciate the state board to kind of listen to all sides."
Fields remains open to charter schools through a guided system.
"If that’s good for kids, I think we should by all means do it," he said.
— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.