A charter school pilot is coming to Northern Kentucky, but the region’s largest university will not be its authorizer.
Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents declined to take action Tuesday to be the authorizer — the institution that can approve, deny, and oversee a charter school — ending months of speculation about a project for which they initially didn’t know they were even involved.
In declining to take action, the university effectively declined to be the authorizer.
Instead, local school boards will be required to put forward two members from each local board of a district located in a county that contains four or more local school districts. These members will become the substitute pilot project authorizer.
When House Bill 9, which created a funding mechanism for charters and created the state’s pilot school charter program, first appeared in the legislature in March, NKU said they didn’t know anything about their inclusion.
“NKU was not consulted about being included as a potential charter school authorizer prior to our inclusion in HB9,” a statement from NKU said at the time. “Furthermore, we have not had the opportunity to fully understand what is in the bill.”
Once the university learned of its role, it spent $5,000 lobbying to change the bill’s language.
“Once we learned of NKU’s inclusion in HB9, we had conversations with the bill sponsor and other legislators to discuss our role as a charter school authorizer in Northern Kentucky,” said Carmen Hickerson, the assistant vice president of economic and government relations at NKU in March.
“These conversations resulted in the bill language being amended to ‘may’ from ‘shall,’ giving us greater flexibility in NKU’s role,” Hickerson said.
NKU spent the ensuing months up to the Jan. 1, 2023 deadline researching other universities that act as authorizers in their state to decide whether or not they would accept the role — one that would have seen them gain a 3% fee from the district where they approve a charter.
“I feel that any district being required from an authorizer to take on a charter without any of their input is totally unconstitutional,” said Mike Borchers, superintendent of Ludlow Independent Schools, during a superintendent’s council meeting.
He was referring to a statute that will require a school district to take on a charter school if the authorizer chooses it for the district.
During the meeting, Borchers made a point that if NKU selects a district for a charter school, that district will have to use its funds for the school. However, due to language in House Bill 9, students from other districts can attend the charter, which means the local school district selected for a charter may be spending funds on out-of-district students.
“Our situation is so much more unique than the other situation in the state with the pilot projects,” Borchers said.
Gov. Andy Beshear told LINK nky Monday that he isn’t in favor of charter schools and doesn’t think they’re the solution to some of the state’s educational woes.
“No, all you do in charter schools is create potential haves versus have-nots,” Beshear said, elaborating that he believes in public school educators while lamenting the Republican-dominated legislature for putting the state 44th in teacher pay.
For the first time since 2019, the state reported federal statuses for individual schools such as “Comprehensive School Improvement” and “Targeted School Improvement”.
Multiple Northern Kentucky schools were rated as CSI, which the state describes as those selected based upon the bottom 5% of student performance, not on a school achieving a specific score. The Kentucky Department of Education stated that about 50 schools would be identified as CSI on a yearly basis.
In Northern Kentucky, Grandview Elementary in Bellevue; Holmes High School and Ninth District Elementary in Covington; and Newport’s middle school grades received the designation putting them in the bottom 5% of schools in the state.
Beshear said the solution to the public education system isn’t to pull some students out of the system and then allow charter schools to have fewer rules than the public school system.
“I also don’t think it’s constitutional,” Beshear said. “I think the constitution is very clear that public dollars have to go into the public school system.”
NKU’s Faculty Senate issued a statement at the Nov. 28 Board of Regents Meeting that said it opposes the university becoming a charter school authorizer for five reasons — with the first two saying that if NKU acts as an authorizer it doesn’t align with the mission and vision of the university, and it conflicts with its Core Values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“NKU did not request to be an authorizer of the charter school pilot project,” the statement reads.
The Faculty Senate also said they are unequivocal in their support for excellence in public education across the continuum.
“NKU has a robust partnership with the public P-12 school districts in northern
Kentucky,” the statement reads. “A large portion of our student body comes from northern Kentucky high schools. Numerous NKU graduates serve as teachers, administrators, and counselors in the local schools. These partnerships must not be jeopardized.”
Lastly, they say that charter schools have a mixed track record of support for all students and their success.