In a recent interview with the Courier-Journal, candidate Denise Gray explained why she felt the need to run for office. “This is a time when we need to make a difference. We can’t continue to complain about a situation and not be willing to step up. I just had enough of complaining.”
So did the other 50 educators who have decided to run for public office.
Since the heated pension reform battle earlier this spring, Kentucky teachers have mobilized in a way we’ve never seen before. Signs and bumper stickers reading “Remember in November” and “#120Strong” dot the state’s landscape. Teacher protests and walk-outs made national news in April. 2018 has been a crazy year for public education in Kentucky, and it’s about to reach its apex.
Next Tuesday, Kentuckians will go to the polls and cast their votes on a number of statewide and national offices. But the theme of this year’s election hasn’t been the economy or healthcare — it’s charter schools. That’s the galvanizing topic for these teachers-turned-politicians; the single issue that can make or break a campaign in the Bluegrass’ heated political climate.
Sure, it may have started with pension reform, but that’s out of focus now. The pension bill we finally ended up with was declared unconstitutional before it could even take effect, and Attorney General Andy Beshear seems confident that it will stay that way. (Of course, it’s still left a bitter taste in teacher’s mouths.)
Instead, educator candidates are turning their attention to charter schools, where they can still make a whole lot of impact.
Despite the fact that charter schools have been legal to operate in Kentucky since 2017, the budget that was passed earlier this spring did not include a funding mechanism for charters. Most charter schools are considered public schools by the states in which they’re located, and as a result, they receive state funding that allows them to operate. Without a funding mechanism in place in our state budget, potential charter school operators can’t open.
Obviously, anti-charter candidates are aware of this. While they might not be able to check off a lot of items from the KEA wishlist, these teachers-turned-politicians, if elected, may be able to stop charter schools in their tracks. Kentucky won’t have another budget session until 2020, and if pro-union teachers are calling the shots in Frankfort at that time, charter school funding could be delayed for another two years beyond that.
It’s not an overstatement to say that Kentucky’s midterm elections are a referendum on charter schools. Their future hinges on whatever happens next Tuesday.