The Charter School Advisory Council meets in Frankfort. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

A state advisory council signaled Wednesday that it favored a slight but potentially significant change in charter school oversight.

The Charter Schools Advisory Council, which operates under the state department of education, said that it supported a change that, if adopted, would mean that Kentucky school boards might lose approval power over a charter school’s decision to work with an outside manager.

There was minimal concern voiced in a sparsely attended meeting Wednesday morning, but the proposal sparked concerns of for-profit groups receiving public funds.

Currently, authorizers have final say over whether charters under them can work with those outside groups, getting contract approval rights. But the council thinks that should change, allowing a charter operator to make the decision without authorizer approval.

School boards can act as authorizers for charter schools, which receive public funds but operate autonomously. Under current regulations, the schools can contract with an educational service provider to help with curriculum or professional development. These providers, also called education or charter management organizations, can operate as nonprofit or for-profit entities.

But making the change official is a long way out. Kentucky Department of Education’s legal team will incorporate the council’s opinion in a more concrete proposal, general counsel Deanna Durrett said. That proposal will be brought back to the council at their next meeting, currently scheduled for May 23 but potentially sooner.

After their approval, the council can recommend regulations to the state board of education, who would then need to approve changes or new rules.

Charter operators would still need to alert an authorizer if they plan to work with an outside management company. There are regulations governing what must be included in a contract between an operator and a manager, Durrett said.

The charter operator is responsible for overseeing the manager, and the authorizer oversees the operator, Durrett said. Requiring authorizer approval over the contract with the manager might be “a step too far,” she said.

Speaking from her past experience working in charter schools, Durrett told council members the regulation might get to a level of “micromanagement.”

Some public school advocates say the potential lack of approval power reduces local school board, and therefore local voter, control over charter schools.

“Charter operators who want to outsource the job to a ‘for profit’ entity can do so and now the state doesn’t want the authorizer to have any say over who they bring in?” Save Our Schools Kentucky co-founder Gay Adelmann tweeted soon after the discussion. “This bypassing of transparency and accountability is one of the top objections we have to charter schools!”

Kentucky law requires that at least two parents sit on a charter’s board of directors, Commissioner Wayne Lewis said.

“That would prevent, really, virtually any service provider from just coming in from out of state,” Lewis said.

“There’s got to be a core of the community that has to partner with that service,” council and state board of education member Gary Houchens added.

Both Lewis and Houchens, along with council members Milton Seymore and Ben Cundiff, are known charter school advocates.

Kentucky passed charter school regulations in 2017, but none have opened due to a lack of long-term funding. A funding mechanism for charters is one of KDE’s legislative goals for the 2019 session, but a bill has not been introduced thus far.

KDE’s chief lobbyist resigned last week after a sexual harassment allegation against him was published. A KDE spokeswoman said an internal candidate will be leading the department’s legislative efforts in the interim.