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Kentucky’s Charter School Law Is Unconstitutional As Far as This Judge Is Concerned

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Kentucky’s Charter School Law is unconstitutional.

This was the the ruling of Franklin Circuit Court judge who dismissed Kentucky’s Charter School Law. The law allows charter schools in Kentucky to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. This will allow the spending of public money on private schools.

Public schools are not happy about this. 168 Kentucky school districts legally represented by the Council for Better Education believe it is unconstitutional. 

According to Phillip Shepherd, charter schools are “private entities.” He believes they fall short of the Kentucky Constitution’s definition of “public schools” or “common schools.”

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The “policy goals of the legislation are not at issue in this case,” Shepherd wrote. “Here, the only issue is whether the legislation runs afoul of the very specific mandates of the Kentucky Constitution governing public education and the expenditure of tax dollars.”

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Shepherd also said there is no way for the definition of ‘common schools’ to accommodate privately owned schools exempt from the statutes governing public schools. Common schools are those supported by public taxes.

According to the judge, all children within the district who meet the age requirements can attend it. “The common schools must be open to every child and operated, managed, and fully accountable to the taxpaying public,” he wrote. 

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On the other hand, charter schools are specifically allowed to impose enrollment caps limiting their enrollment to a certain number of children. The small class sizes permit them to enjoy ease of instruction. However, such schools may reject qualified children residing in the district. 

Taxpayer-supported charter schools are authorized to limit their enrollment. They are also to ‘conduct an admissions lottery if capacity is insufficient to enroll all students who wish to attend the school.’”

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The ruling follows closely behind the attempt of a private school in Madison County to become Kentucky’s first charter school. Gus LaFontaine owns LaFontaine Preparatory School, a pre-K to fifth-grade private school. He was an intervenor in the lawsuit.

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After the ruling, LaFontaine highlighted how 45 states, including those on Kentucky’s borders, offer “charter school options.” He said, “We will continue to pursue judicial resolution that empowers all parents to participate in education freedom, even those that are not financially capable.”

Attorney General Daniel Cameron is another person who intervened in the suit to defend the law. Tom Shelton, executive secretary of the Council for Better Education, said, “The constitution specifically prohibits the privatization of public funds. Public funds are for public purposes.”

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The Council for Better Education filed its lawsuit against Kentucky education officials in January. It seeks for the law to be ruled unconstitutional. Toward the end of 2022, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously dismissed a Kentucky law creating a generous tax credit that helps families afford tuition at private schools. 

The opinion cited a long line of precedent reinforcing the Kentucky Constitution’s ban on the state becoming a financial backer for private schools. The Kentucky House Democratic caucus leaders support the decision.

They said in a statement: “Our belief is simple: Follow the constitution and give public education our undivided support.”

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