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Local educators fear charter schools will cut state funding

By JASON MORROW jmorrow@paducahsun.com

Local educators aren't too happy about House Bill 520, passed by the Kentucky General Assembly on Wednesday.

The bill will allow charter schools to open throughout the state for the 2017-2018 school year, and some think they will be a drain on state funding.

"I think there is a very high probability that we will see another reduction in state spending on public schools," said Donald Shively, superintendent of Paducah Public Schools.

In a statement Wednesday after the bill was passed, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, applauded passage of the charter school legislation.

"The flexibility offered by public charter schools encourages teachers and administrators to use good judgment in innovative ways to produce positive results for Kentucky children," McConnell said.

"Most importantly, public charter schools give parents additional options when selecting the school that is right for their child, particularly when they feel the needs of their child aren't being met through the traditional public school model."

Shively said there are plenty of choices already in place for Western Kentucky. "We work well with our neighboring school districts, and we have open enrollment policies with everyone," Shively said. "When you look at our school districts, our community has a lot of great choices to make from the different public schools and private schools that we have in our area."

Quin Sutton, superintendent of McCracken County Public Schools, said he didn't expect charter schools to make their way into western Kentucky.

"They've really made no plans with House Bill 520 about where the funding is going to come from," Sutton said at the McCracken school board meeting Thursday.

"We've already been underfunded for many years, and there have been a lot of mandates we haven't received funding for. I can see our funding levels deteriorating even more with charter schools."

Over the last eight years, the Paducah school district has seen a decline in state funding.

In 2008, Paducah schools were 61 percent state funded and 39 percent locally funded. By 2016, they were 52 percent state funded and 48 percent locally funded.

"I'm fearful for the taxpayers of Paducah that charter schools could end up pushing that even further toward locally funded education, even if (charter schools) are just in Louisville or Lexington," Shively said. "That's a fear I've had since the bill was introduced."

HB 520, if signed by the governor, will make Kentucky the 44th state to allow charter schools.

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