Possible Education Expansion in Kentucky

Murray, KY – According to the National Education Association, charter schools are publicly funded schools that have been freed from some of the rules and regulations that apply to public schools. These schools have been most successful in urban areas, but U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes the rural areas of America are ready for charter schools. With the new Race to the Top fund, the possibility of these schools reaching rural areas in Kentucky is greater each day. Caleb Campbell has more.

As of 2008, 41 states and the District of Columbia have laws associated with charter schools.

In recent months, Arne Duncan has continued to advocate for expanding charter schools across the nation, using merit pay as a way to attract teachers and principals.

Some local public school administrators say that charter schools are beneficial for the inner city school systems, but they aren't sold on their potential impact on rural communities.

One of the most rural school districts in our region is in Ballard County It's central office is in Barlow, a town with a population less than a thousand people. Superintendent Edward Adami doesn't see how charter schools, if they were to come to Kentucky, would work.

"How are they going to staff these with certified quality people when we're all vying for those teachers whenever our positions come available now? I just don't see how, from a financial perspective, how they're going to make that happen. In a rural county it even makes it more difficult."

Furthermore Mr. Adami sees significant financial challenges.

"The state legislature has problems funding the public schools as they are. They're supporting that money with stabilization money. We've taken cuts for the last three or four years. I can't understand how they're going to be able to fund another school district in other counties and make it viable."

Trigg County is similar to Ballard. But with a 16 percent unemployment rate, Superintendent Tim McGinnis doesn't want there to be a competition for funds between the two separate schooling systems.

"Obviously, if you redirect federal and state dollars in support of a charter school I think that would obviously have a negative impact on the program we offer our kids today. We need additional resources in our buildings and I would regret having to compete with the charter concept for those same dollars."

This summer, Arne Duncan announced a 4.35 billion dollar Race to the Top fund. According to the Department of Education, The Race to the Top Fund provides competitive grants to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform. 1st District State Senator Ken Winters believes the funding will eventually reach Kentucky.

"The fact that the U.S. Department of Education listed the charter schools flexibility as one element in the Race to the Top funding program, naturally we've been told by them that some of the innovative things we've done probably puts us in very good steed for Race to the Top funding."

Seemingly at odds with McGinnis and Adami, Senator Winters believes that even though there aren't any charter schools in the state yet, signs point to change.

"We have implemented through the passage of senate bill one, which passed unanimously I might add. Plus, the accompanying bill that dealt with the requirement for ACT of all students and then the promotion of advanced placement through an additional bill, all of those are seen nationally as a very innovative approach to dealing with the same issues that typically give birth to the charter schools."

Superintendent McGinnis does not think Arne Duncan relates to rural areas as much as he does with urban areas. Mr. Duncan was the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools for eight years until this last January when he took on the role as U.S. Secretary of Education.

"I don't know if he understands what we do in Trigg County. I don't know if he understands our culture. I don't understand if he really realizes the impact it could have on small schools and small communities."

With Kentucky possibly becoming a charter state soon, public rural schools, such as Ballard and Trigg, might begin discussing how they will handle the possible loss of students and faculty to a newer, more attractive option for families and their children. However, Superintendent McGinnis sees a way for charter schools and public schools to coexist peacefully.

McGinnis believes that if charter schools take existing funds that are traditionally earmarked for public education then the schools should be all inclusive, serving all students, regardless of their social economic status or special needs. For McGinnis, if they play by the same rules, then he would be happy to commend the idea.

For WKMS News, I'm Caleb Campbell.