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'Contrary to the interest of our students' | Educators, faith leaders debate charter school bill in Senate committee

House Bill 9 would require a charter school in Louisville and in Northern Kentucky. Speakers for and against the bill were passionate in committee Monday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A charter school embedded within Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) is closer to reality after a bill passed a Senate Committee Monday afternoon.

House Bill 9 would require a charter school in Louisville and in Northern Kentucky.

Speakers for and against the bill were passionate in committee. While the arguments are nuanced, they center around local tax dollars and the best way to truly serve disenfranchised students – points both sides disagree on.

Pastor Jerry Stephenson, of Midwest Church of Christ in Louisville's west end, is the chair of a group of faith leaders pushing for the bill.

"Something is not working in the traditional public schools,” Stephenson said. "We're not asking you to create a private school, but to create a mechanism for them to get the best education that they can."

He said JCPS has failed minority students for decades; it’s a point Jefferson County Teacher Association President Brent McKim pushed back on when questioned.

Several people spoke out against the bill, including Lucy Waterbury with Save our Schools Kentucky.

"Whether it's 100 students or 300 students that are lost, that SEEK funding is lost,” Waterbury said. “That is all types of auxiliary services that we provide to children."

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"We know our kids. We know our schools. We understand the needs of our community,” Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, said.

McKim argued the bill doesn't protect students’ rights or how charter schools are ran.

"I believe charter schools are contrary to the interest of our students,” McKim said. “Many of you may disagree with me, but I hope you would agree that it is not in the best interest of our students to waive all of these protections that we have in place."

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio also weighed in with a statement:

“It is unfortunate some legislators feel the need to attack Jefferson County Public Schools and some of the hardest working educators in Kentucky. This is another example of unconstitutional legislation taking aim at Jefferson County Public Schools. JCPS already offers choices to families and plans to offer more choices to all families through our School Choice proposal. The only thing the charter school funding bill will do is take public tax money away from JCPS schools and give it to out-of-state corporations.”

Monday morning, the bill came under fire because one lawmaker was accused of attempting financial gain.

Kentucky 120 United-ATF, a teachers union, held a press conference Monday morning accusing Representative Kim Banta of voting 'yes' on House Bill 9 because of her husband's employment with a Northern Kentucky real estate company.

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The organization pointed to a Courier Journal article in which this was revealed. The newspaper reports the owner of the company is said to be in favor of school choice, and has said he wants to create a private school in the area.

The union said it wants this bill to be stalled until an investigation is done.

Banta released a statement in response:

“False rumors that were deliberately spread on social media have unfortunately taken the place of a rational conversation about the merits of this public policy. I have not received a copy of the ethics complaint and will not comment on it until I have had a chance to review it. In the meantime, I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and my priority continues to be serving the people of my district and advocating for students and parents.”

On March 29, the bill passed the full Senate, moving to Gov. Andy Beshear's desk for his signature or veto.

► Contact reporter Bobbi McSwine at BMcSwine@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter

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