State of the Commonwealth

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin refers to his lapel pin, a pair of scissors, a symbol of his plans to cut spending as he addresses a joint session of the Kentucky legislature during the State of the Commonwealth address, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Timothy D. Easley

FRANKFORT – Gov. Matt Bevin, joined by legislators, education officials and community leaders, Tuesday ceremonially signed House Bill 520 in the State Capitol Rotunda. Enacted during the regular session of the 2017 General Assembly, HB 520 enables the creation of public charter schools for the first time in Kentucky.

“We owe it to the generations yet to come to provide them with an equal opportunity for a quality education,” Bevin said in a statement. “I’m grateful to the men and women who are working to educate our young people; and the best and brightest among them are begging for some change to a bureaucratic system. We simply want to give choices to parents and to students — to give every child an opportunity. That’s what this bill is about.”

The legislation makes Kentucky the 44th state in the nation with charter schools, which are tuition-free, open enrollment public schools. While the state's charter schools will be granted greater flexibility and autonomy than traditional public schools, they will also experience greater performance accountability than traditional public schools.

“Charter schools in Kentucky mean more education opportunities for our youth who happen to live in low-performing districts,” Rep. Bam Carney, the chief sponsor of the charter school bill, said. “Every single student deserves the best shot at a quality education that will prepare them for a lifetime, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to support this important measure. Kentucky’s students are bright, and with an education to match, the entire Commonwealth’s future will shine.”

HB 520 outlines how charter schools — termed achievement academies — are to be authorized: by local boards of education or by the mayors of Louisville and Lexington. If a charter school application is denied, it can then go through an appeals process with the Kentucky Board of Education.

Since the bill was passed in March, regulations have been promulgated on student applications, charter applications, appeals to the authorizer accountability, the process for converting existing public schools into public charter schools, and appeals to the Kentucky Board of Education.

“Across the country, specialized forms of education are accelerating learning for children who are often the hardest to reach in a traditional school framework,” Hal Heiner, secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said in a news release. “I applaud Kentucky’s legislature for passing House Bill 520, a monumental step in providing parents a different, innovative choice in public education for the specific learning needs of their child.”

According to HB 520, public charter schools are required to participate in the state assessment and accountability system, and required to meet the academic performance standards agreed upon in their charters. Charter schools that fail to meet of make significant progress toward meeting those standards would be closed by their board authorizers.

For more information about charter schools in the state, visit https://education.ky.gov/commofed/chartsch.

Also Tuesday afternoon, Bevin ceremonially signed House Bill 241. Sponsored by Rep. John Sims, HB 241 provides stronger protections for student athletes in Kentucky high schools who sustain head injuries.

“I appreciate everyone who worked hard to pass this important legislation,” Sims said. “Now, if a player is suspected of sustaining a concussion during practice or a game, they cannot return to action until they are cleared by a licensed physician.”

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