BRADENTON, Fla. - The Kentucky Senate passed legislation that would set up a five-year pilot program to allow the state's first charter schools.

Senate Bill 8 passed on a vote of 23-12 on Feb. 6.

Bill sponsors said the measure would help give poor and minority children assistance in improving test scores and closing the achievement gap.

If the House passes the legislation, up to five charter schools would be established as nonprofit entities in Louisville and Lexington with the power to issue bonds to finance capital needs.

The schools would be funded on a per-pupil basis from state money. They could also be managed by for-profit companies.

Some lawmakers expressed concern that funding the charter schools would take away financial resources needed by public schools.

"Given the lack of funding we have in our public schools…it would be irresponsible to create a system of charter schools that would siphon much needed resources from our public schools," Sen. Ray. S. Jones, D-Pikeville. "To siphon those funds away from our existing school systems would be financially irresponsible."

Kentucky is one of eight states without charter schools.

In addition to setting up the pilot program, SB 8 would create the nine-member Kentucky Public Charter School Commission as an independent state agency with the ability to issue charters.

The commission would also be charged with establishing a uniform system of financial accounting, and ongoing oversight of schools it authorizes.

The Kentucky Public Charter Schools Association said in a November report that the state's two largest school districts have the most significant disparities in reading and math among minority and economically disadvantaged students. Those districts are Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington and Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville.

"Kentucky needs a strong charter school law that will finally help put low-income and minority students on the path toward success," said Wayne Lewis, Ph.D., co-author of the report.

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