Two bills recently proposed in the Kansas Legislature could make innovative charter schools more mainstream in Kansas.
That is what one local educator sees potential for at least.
McPherson College professor Mark Malaby and his education graduate students have been working to establish a charter school in Mount Hope. The school closed in 2011, but the team has been working with the school’s former district and the Mount Hope community to revive the school.
An application was sent to the state in January. Acceptance is pending. Malaby believes this to be the only charter application in the state for the upcoming school year.
As they wait, Malaby said Mount Hope charter school organizers are watching Topeka.
“I think charter schools offer very, very valuable possibilities for certain districts, so we need to make sure charter schools remain an option in the places where they’re needed,” he said. “I think this legislation would help that.”
The bills before the House and Senate are strongly influenced by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, according to the Associated Press.
The legislation would allow lottery admissions, bar charter schools from discriminating against some special-education students, allow independent groups to create and monitor schools, and give charter schools exemptions from state laws and regulations, including graduation requirements and curriculum standards.
Charter schools also would no longer need school boards to receive funds, would be exempt from professional negotiations laws involving teachers, and would be allowed to offer different themes and specializations, including single-sex schools, but not religious schools, according to the Associated Press.
The proposed legislation, Malaby said, would allow more local control and move the framework of schools like Mount Hope more into the mainstream for charter schools in Kansas. The state has 15 charter schools, which are publicly funded but generally operate independently of school districts.
“What I think this could do, and I’m always hopeful, is that it would move us a little toward the center,” he said. “It would shift the discussion, making what we’re doing become a little bit more of the norm, which would be a wonderful move for Kansas education. There’s some ideas in there that are really good ideas. They are on the cuff of where we might be going in Kansas anyway.”
Malaby said the legislation would identify innovative schools and provide some exemptions for them. He views Mount Hope as innovative because the organizers have been working with the community to develop project-based learning that is educational and locally relevant.
“Instead of us being an example of innovation, we would be an example of excellence,” he said.
Page 2 of 2 - Malaby said he would like to see more schools shift to innovative models.
“I think that would be a good thing because we are strong advocates of local control and feel the stronger we make the connection between the school and the local environment the better,” he said.
“The more we can make the education relevant to the kids’ lives and framing it in terms of their world, the more success we’re going to have. I’m all for a lot of deregulation.”
The tone of the state toward charter schools could change, however, if the bills are not well accepted.
Opponents contend charter schools aren’t held to the same standards as public schools and often turn away or expel difficult students, who become the responsibility of public school districts. The Kansas Association of School Boards 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, according to the Associated Press.
“If it gets vigorously beat down and sets a tone, it might be a little bit of a tougher road for us to go down,” Malaby said, “but there’s nothing that I see that would give me reason to fear it’s passage.”
Contact Jenae Pauls at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel