State Representative Regina Huff (R-Williamsburg) would like you to know that Republicans aren’t pursuing charter schools because the schools are a license to grift for out-of-state charter school chains and the hedge-fund managers that run so many of them — even though, historically, Republicans have been very generous to their political donors. Oh, no! It’s because parents in the West End are crying out for charter schools!
This will be the mantra for pro-charter Republicans in the 2019 General Assembly.
Now, the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and Dear JCPS have been canvassing the West End on the issue of charter schools nearly every weekend; previously, these two groups were asking about the proposed takeover of JCPS schools. The canvassers are still looking for any West End family that supported killing democracy for JCPS parents and voters through the takeover, and they found no appetite for charter schools either. West End residents realized that the proposed JCPS takeover was simply an attempt by the Kentucky Department of Education and Governor Matt Bevin to get their hands on JCPS’s $1.7 billion budget to use as a charter-school piggy bank, in order to reward donors who want to grift at the public trough.
But even if we didn’t have the data to disprove this appeal to the West End as the reason for charters, common sense would tell you it’s a lie.
There are some pro-public education Republicans. In addition to the newly elected educator Travis Brenda, there were several Republicans who voted against establishing charter schools and against the so-called “sewer bill” that decimated pensions. But for the rest of the Republicans who have declared war on public schools, why is it that they only care about the West End’s opinion when there’s a chance to make Wall Street hedge-fund managers richer?
Republicans didn’t care about the West End’s opinion when they pushed through the so-called gang bill that, once enacted, makes it easier to harass and arrest African-American young men. They didn’t care about the West End’s opinion when Governor Matt Bevin proposed changes in the food stamp rules that make it easier to throw working people off their food stamps because of the onerous reporting requirements.
The Republicans didn’t care about the West End’s opinion when they did nothing about police shootings of unarmed black men. And, they didn’t care about the West End’s opinion, much less the health and lives of the people in the West End, when Bevin sought to cut back on the Medicaid expansion. So this isn’t about the West End at all. It’s about the Benjamins in charter schools, and the size of JCPS’s budget.
President Robert Stivers announced recently that he’s making funding charter schools a priority, even though public schools have been starved for funding for at least a decade. Why does he insist that charter schools are needed? Because, Stivers says, something “must be done” about Jefferson County Public Schools.
Now, no one pretends that there isn’t room for improvement in JCPS. However, according to U.S. News and World Report, JCPS’s score in college readiness was 23.7, while the district got a 38 percent in math proficiency. In contrast, Clay County (Senator Stivers hails from the county seat of Manchester) got a score of 17.7 in college readiness, and a 30 percent in math proficiency. If Stivers and Republicans really cared about improving public education in Kentucky, then obviously they would say “Something must be done about Clay County!”
But they won’t. They won’t talk about Clay County at all. Why? Because Clay County schools don’t have a $1.7 billion budget.
The Repubs can wax poetic about the West End crying out for charter schools all they want. They’re not fooling the parents in the West End, and they’re not fooling the rest of us. They haven’t paid attention to the West End of Louisville before, and they’re not now.