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Five years after charter schools were legalized in Kentucky, they might now become a reality with a new funding bill

Karyn Czar

After two close votes and hours of debate, legislation that fully funds charter schools in Kentucky moves through committee and the House.

“You can cut the tension in this room with a knife today,” said Democrat Representative Angie Hatton on the mood on the House floor Tuesday as lawmakers debated HB 9.

The bill was fast-tracked, first narrowly passing a House Standing Committee on Education Tuesday morning, then making it to the House floor for a nearly three-hour contentious debate soon after lawmakers gaveled in for the afternoon.

Republican Representative Chad McCoy who sponsored the bill said while the system won’t be perfect, he believes charter schools will help some Kentucky students thrive.

“I’ll be the first to tell you there are bad charter schools out there. And I think everybody would agree with me that there are bad public schools out there too. That’s not an indictment on the whole process on way or another.” McCoy said. “This is about parents. Parents need choice. And this bill gives choice in our public school system.”

Opponents like Democrat Representative Mary Lou Marzian said charter schools siphon much needed funds from public schools and are merely a blueprint to create wealth for those who operate them.

“If you’re a charter school operator or you want to come into Kentucky and be one,” Marzian said, “this is a great bill for you to be at the taxpayers trough and take as much money as you can out of the taxpayers pocket.”

Charter schools have been allowed in the state since 2017 but funding had never been set aside. That’s what HB 9 does. It also mandates two charter school pilot programs in west Louisville and Covington. While the bill did pass through the House 51-46, the votes were not cut down party lines. Several Republicans joined Democrats and voted against it. The Governor has said he will veto any charter school legislation.

Karyn Czar joined the WUKY News team July 1, 2013, but she's no stranger to radio.