Chalk Talks - Forecasting the Implications of Charter School Legislation in Kentucky: The Economic Impact of Charter School Programs and a Suggestion for the Model Charter School

By Eldemire-Smith, Jake | Journal of Law and Education, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Chalk Talks - Forecasting the Implications of Charter School Legislation in Kentucky: The Economic Impact of Charter School Programs and a Suggestion for the Model Charter School


Eldemire-Smith, Jake, Journal of Law and Education


I. INTRODUCTION

Charter school policies leave much to be explored with respect to economic outcomes.1 In 1992, the first charter school opened its doors in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with an intent to educate "students who have dropped out of school and whose homes were wracked by poverty or substance abuse."2 This excerpt would lead a person to believe that pure economic altruism inspired the genesis of these institutions. Perhaps a widespread implementation of charter schools could be the educational reform that finally narrows the gap between rich and poor. At least that is the argument asserted by charter school proponents who maintain that state-contracted institutions, although owned and operated by private entities or non-profit organizations, can offer a formidable education alternative for families plagued by a dilapidated public-school system. On the other hand, charter school skeptics argue that the schools exacerbate economic disparities inherent in public education by dislodging muchneeded funding from the state-sponsored system, thus taking resources away from schools in communities most strapped for cash and with the highest rates of impoverished students.

Competing arguments such as these rose to relevance in Kentucky when the Commonwealth became the forty-fourth state in the union to adopt charter schools with the passing of House Bill 520 in March of 2017. Charter schools are expected to open in the Bluegrass State as early as 2018.3 Well before this commencement date, Kentucky's General Assembly, by statute, made known its purpose for adopting a charter school policy: "Reducing achievement gaps in Kentucky is necessary for the state to realize its workforce and economic development potential. . . Additional public-school options are necessary to help reduce socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic achievement gaps ... The demand exists for high-quality public charter schools in the Commonwealth."4 The phrase "to help reduce socioeconomic achievement gaps" underscores perhaps one of the most profound issues associated with America's current education system-the perpetuation of income inequality. Whether charter schools will solve income inequality, however, is up for debate.

Schools in poverty-stricken areas typically have the scantest of resources necessary to provide students with a proper education.5 Because of these limited resources, students with learning deficiencies, disabilities, tumultuous home lives, and other educational obstacles are unable to get the extra attention they may need to learn skills necessary to thrive in today's increasingly skilled workforce. Notably, the consensus in the economic community is that the quality of education a child receives-especially in their formative years-is the most influential determinant of the socioeconomic status ("SES") that child will attain later in life.6 Insufficient education more times than not creates an indigent member of society. Fortunately, empirical data regarding economic outcomes associated with charter schools has gradually become more available since the Minnesota legislature wrote the first charter school into law. Unfortunately, the data leaves much to be desired, because so few students actually attend charter schools.

Part I of this article explains generally, the correlation between education and income inequality. Part II explains Kentucky's current rate of poverty and income inequality, and how poverty affects Kentucky's education system. Part III analyzes such data, taken together with learning outcome data from other states similarly situated with Kentucky who have adopted charter schools, to forecast potential outcomes of Kentucky students given the implementation contemplated by the bill. Finally, Part IV provides a recommendation for using charter schools to ameliorate the effects of income inequality, and it outlines what charter schools could look like in West Louisville-one of Kentucky's most impoverished communities. …

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