TOPEKA — Two bills in the Legislature would give charter schools greater freedom to open and operate in Kansas, where such schools have struggled to find a foothold.
Kansas has 15 charter schools, which are publicly funded but generally operate independently of school districts. The state had 37 charter schools just three years ago. Most that closed cited financial difficulties.
Proponents say charter school offer parents a choice to send their children to schools that offer innovation and options and introduce competition into education.
Opponents contend charter schools aren’t held to the same standards as public schools and often turn away or expel difficult students.
The Kansas legislation would allow lottery admissions and bar charter schools from discriminating, although they would be able to turn away special-education students if they don’t offer the services those students need.
The legislation also would:
• Allow independent groups, such as a university or county government, to create a charter school and monitor its progress, while the schools are run by other groups.
• Give charter schools exemptions from state laws and regulations, including graduation requirements and curriculum standards. The schools also would be exempt from professional negotiations laws involving teachers.
Give charter schools a portion of state aid that otherwise would have gone to the local board. The schools would not receive local funding, but could accept grants and donations.
• Allow the schools to offer different themes and specializations, including single-sex schools, but not religious approaches.
Kansas Policy Institute, a free market group, supports the legislation, although it would prefer that charter schools have access to more public education funds, lobbyist Dave Trabert said.
The Kansas Association of School Boards, however, believes the legislation is unconstitutional because the state Constitution requires the State Board of Education to oversee public schools and elected school boards to operate them.