Before I became a state representative, I had the great privilege of serving on two site-based decision making councils for the Letcher County Public Schools. This important forum provides an opportunity to craft school policy as it was meant to be — parents, teachers and administrators working together, at the local level, to ensure state educational standards are met and the individual needs of our communities are addressed.
Last week, Kentucky took a major, and painful, step backwards when the new Majority in the House of Representatives approved House Bill 520, a legislative measure that will allow the operation of private, for-profit charter schools in the Commonwealth. From here on out, our ability as distinct communities to embrace or resist charter schools will be determined, in the end, by political appointees in Frankfort.
Adding to this burden was the last-minute rush of House Bill 471, a bill that originally dealt mainly with retired teachers. On our last day to consider legislation, though, this legislation was amended as a way to fund charter schools. This surprise move was done for political purposes so they can attack me and those who voted against charter schools at a later date. But that doesn’t matter to me now. I am proud of my vote and the stand that I took in defense of our public teachers, administrators, students and school workers.
Sadly, the debate on charter schools, and so many other far reaching issues this legislative session, was so limited that my ability to gather all the facts — and your ability to be fully aware of legislation moving ever so swiftly through the halls of the Capitol — was stifled in a way that went against every notion of the democratic process that our citizens expect and deserve. As I said defiantly on the House floor, those in charge of the process this time around should be ashamed of the way they skewed the rules to limit the voices of the people and those that they elected to represent them.
Was there a way we could have designed a pilot program for charter schools that would have allowed us to measure their value in Kentucky? Perhaps. But we’ll never know now because of the limitations placed on debate. Make no mistake, though — charter schools are the first step to opening the door for school vouchers, which will allow already wealthy families to be reimbursed with government tax dollars for their choice in private schools. That’s the battle we have ahead, and those of us who care about ensuring that the needs of each student are met — regardless of income — might as well prepare for it now.
It’s also important to note that charter schools weren’t pushed by a grassroots effort led by our fellow Kentuckians, but by the flow out of state corporate money intent on pressing their will upon our people. As eastern Kentuckians, we’ve been in this situation far too many times before and we understand, perhaps more than any other region in the state, exactly how that feels and the potential negative effects ahead.
Another dangerous measure forced through the process this week was Senate Bill 107, a successful effort to grant the governor sweeping powers to reconstruct the governing bodies of our state colleges and universities. Under this bill, the governor can appoint each school’s board of regents at his pleasure, and he can take them out at his political convenience. That’s just bad news all around for the long-term stability and independence of these critical components of our regional economy, the future educational needs of our students, and the workforce development opportunities we so desperately need to help our region survive the downturn in the coal economy.
While some of this news may sound disheartening, I am in no way dissuaded from my responsibilities or the challenges ahead. I pledge to hold accountable all those who brought this legislation to fruition if the alleged benefits of these proposals don’t live up to their billing.
Our work in Frankfort for this session is almost over, and we’ll come back to the Capitol on March 29 and 30 to consider any vetoes the governor may choose to offer on the legislation already delivered to his desk. If you have questions, concerns or would like to provide an opposing view to the stances I have chosen, please contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at angie.hatton@lrc. ky.gov. I’ll also be providing more details on many other measures that we finalized in the final days of the 2017 session in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, please know how honored I am that you chose me to serve as your representative in Frankfort. It’s been such a great privilege, and while I have enjoyed my time working on your behalf in the capital city, there’s absolutely nothing as comforting as heading back east, down through the winding valley that opens up to the majestic mountains I am so proud to call my home.
State Rep. Angie Hatton represents the state’s 94th House District in Letcher and Pike counties.