A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Brent Cooper: Using local taxes for charter schools is a bad idea, especially for Northern Kentucky

I believe using local tax dollars as part of the formula for paying for charter schools is a bad idea, especially for Northern Kentucky. Let me explain why.

As a region, Northern Kentucky pays a higher percentage of local tax dollars to pay for our schools.

Even though education is a state responsibility, in some Northern Kentucky school districts we are covering over 60% of the costs.

In Fort Thomas, where I live, citizens pay 64% of our kid’s education through local taxes.

That’s right, of the $9,035 per student, we only get around 36% from state funding.

Because of that fact, we have higher than normal local property taxes.

Most of the time we quietly go along with tax increases. I think we do this for a couple of reasons.

First, we have a terrific school board that is elected by our community. Unlike some communities, many consider the Fort Thomas school board election to be more important than the city council! Because we have such a good group, we know when they determine local money needs to be increased, it is for good reason.

Second, we know that without a terrific school system, our property values would plummet.

When we vote to raise our local taxes for our schools, we know we are voting on something that will indirectly increase the value of our homes. Neighbors that don’t even have kids understand that fact.

This brings me to House Bill 520.

This bill is a charter school bill. The current language would authorize any student to take his/her local and state tax dollars and use them for any school in the state of Kentucky.

So, imagine your neighbor decides to send his child to a school in another county. Not only do the state dollars follow the child, so do your local tax dollars. The tax dollars that our locally elected school board voted to increase for the benefit our local community would be spent somewhere else.

Furthermore, the bill makes it possible for the dollars to be spent toward a “virtual school” that could be located a completely different region of the state. This, despite the fact that nearly every “virtual school” has demonstrated terrible outcomes for students.

Spending local taxes outside our community would be tough to take for those of us in Northern Kentucky. I honestly don’t believe it’s constitutional.

That said, if it were to survive a lawsuit, it could be very bad for communities like ours. We are already in a constant battle over funding. To introduce that kind of dynamic would be a nightmare to manage.

Most of us believe that some sort of charter school bill will pass in Frankfort this session. What is in the final version matters.

Having our local school boards in charge of charters is a good idea.

Charters should be required to accept all kids (poor, disabled, etc.), just like our public schools.

Charters should be required to meet the same academic standards and adhere to the same levels of accountability as our public schools.

Having state dollars follow a child is one thing, but local dollars should be left out of the discussion. If they need additional funding (beyond state dollars) to make it work, they will need to make up the difference some other way.

If you agree there are some problems with House Bill 520, please let your representative know.

Call the LRC Message Line at: 1-800-372-7181 and/or call your representatives office at  1-502-564-8100  and ask for them by name.

If you care about your kid’s education, and/or your property values, take a minute to engage on this issue.

Brent Cooper is president of C-Forward.

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  1. Marv Dunn says:

    i agree with Mr. Cooper in that I don’t think charter schools are a good idea. The Republican m. o. seems to be “privatize every government service possible and then figure out to make money off it”. We elected a group of politicians to the legislature and governor’s office that are going to give us charter schools come hell or high water. It’s simply going to happen. Many years ago, in another state, I was a member of a business group that was opposing a particular bill that was in their legislature. We finally accepted the fact that we couldn’t kill the bill so we decided to support the best wording we could live with. We need to adopt this strategy in fighting charter schools. In my opinion, charter schools might work in three corners of the golden triangle, although they would have trouble in our area because of the competition from the Catholic school system. I can’t see it working in rural areas. Forty-three states have some form of charter schools. We need to study those systems and find what works and what doesn’t work, pick the best and support it.

  2. Scott Johnson says:

    Be careful what you wish for, Fort Thomas, for you may surely get it.

    I donated 8 years of my time in pursuit of litigation from this community that would respond to Judge Thomas Wingate’s February 2007 plea that we give him the chance to declare the SEEK funding formula, under which we get royally and un-Constitutionally short changed in legally prescribed state funding, un-Constitutional.

    Despite the abundance of legal talent in this town and the fact that our $22 million annual school budget is short-changed by $3.2 million annually from the state, my pleas, along with those of Judge Wingate’s, have gone unanswered by this community on the presumption that so long as we locally pay more and more, in perpetuity, mistreatment by the state would just go away.

    The state’s malicious intent toward Fort Thomas is not going away. In fact, it’s getting worse than being ripped off over $3 million per year.

    In Fort Thomas, we wished upon a star and were granted our wish: a one party, GOP Commonwealth, where the ruling party can do as it damn well pleases. Right or wrong. We now have that.

    In order to precipitate White flight from the educational, (pedagogical) conundrum of effectively educating minority or low socioeconomic urban students and, worse yet, having suburban kids integrated under the Fayette and Jefferson County-wide school systems, the GOP is now force-feeding charter schools on us all.

    As someone who has taken education as a hobby, (School Board) and made it my profession, I can tell you that demanding results from all involved, including students, parents, teachers, administrators, as we do in Fort Thomas, is how it should be done. Accountability, top to bottom, is the solution.

    Putting cost-accountants and Wall Street investors in charge of your child’s education instead of educators, as with Charters, is, to paraphrase GHW Bush, VOO DOO EDUCATION!!!!!

    So, with the mad lunatic Bevin in charge in Frankfort, (complimenting the current fiasco in Washington) and nobody to stop him, we can expect some to take Fort Thomas dollars and go Charter, especially Parochial, if that’s written into the deal, but given our academic standing, the more likely scenario is for our over-taxed, at capacity district to suddenly find out-of-district students at our door, academically unprepared for Fort Thomas rigor, bringing far less than enough in transferable funds, relying on Fort Thomas taxpayers to fund the education of these out-of-district students as they destroy this school system and the property values which that system has bolstered for decades.

    You voted for this Frankfort Oligarchy and failed to address actionable state funding when we had time and now the party’s over.

    Charter Schools are much hype about nothing. Education is changing globally in response to the information technology driven economy of the past three decades. Additionally, urban challenges must be deciphered, as education contributes to our economy, while jails conversely are a drain of human and financial capital.

    I hope it’s not too late to thwart GOP Frankfort’s mission to destroy places like Fort Thomas, but the prognosis for this one party state is not good and dismantling our American heritage of public education as the agent of liberty is certainly not the answer.

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