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Archive for Saturday, February 11, 2006

Charter school bill reveals divide

February 11, 2006

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Kansas State Board of Education members Friday faced off before the Legislature on opposite sides of a bill that supporters said would lead to more charter schools.

Bill Wagnon, a Democrat from Topeka whose district includes Lawrence, opposes the bill, while Ken Willard, a Republican from Hutchinson, supports it.

The House Education Committee took no action on the proposal and will continue the hearing next week.

Under the bill, if a proposal for a charter school is rejected by a local school board, then those who made the proposal could argue their case on appeal to the State Board of Education. Currently, the local school board has the final authority.

Charter schools typically focus on specific kinds of students, such as those who are having trouble in traditional schools.

"Charter schools provide a laboratory setting for innovation on a smaller scale," Willard said. He also spoke in favor of a provision of the bill that would guarantee that state funding for students in charter schools would go to that school, instead of the local school district.

But Wagnon said traditional public schools already provide innovative approaches for teaching difficult-to-reach students. And he said charter schools should be created only when locally elected school boards have reached a consensus with those proposing the charter.

"(The bill) would fracture that cohesion, by substituting the wisdom of the State Board of Education for that of locally elected officials," Wagnon said.

The charter school appeal process was proposed by Education Commissioner Bob Corkins and endorsed by a majority on the state board.

Several educators who are trying to start charter schools spoke in favor of the bill, while a number of education groups opposed the measure.

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