With the possible arrival of charter school applications in Kentucky only weeks away, JCPS leaders are forging a new path — which may be copied by other districts — to figure out how to determine an applicant’s financial clout and operational capacities to open a school.

Applications could be dropped off at the Vanhoose Education Center on Newburg Road as early as April. JCPS plans to issue its request for applications on April 16, a day after the conclusion of the state legislative session, which may shed some light on unanswered questions, especially related to charter school funding.

Cassie Blausey

Since Jan. 2, the JCPS effort to prepare for the arrival of charters has been led by the Louisville attorney Cassie Blausey, who has looked to schools in other states, including Ohio, Tennessee and Colorado, to see how they determine whether to allow an applicant to proceed.

“That process doesn’t exist in Kentucky, yet,” Blausey, the JCPS director of school choice, told Insider this week.

To help JCPS establish the format of the applications, Blausey, a graduate of Male High School in Louisville, is employing her legal and educational expertise.

Blausey taught in Nevada with Teach for America before attending law school, returning to Louisville and working as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney. She worked at the Kentucky Department of Education as a policy adviser, where she reviewed charter school legislation, before joining JCPS as the district’s point person for charters.

Although state leaders have said that funding uncertainties are diminishing the prospects of charters schools in Kentucky, JCPS is continuing its work, as the state’s charter law, passed last year, identified all school districts as potential charter school authorizers. That means all districts, including JCPS, have to prepare this year to be able to examine charter school applications.

Jefferson County Public Schools board members will discuss some charter school policies at their Feb. 27 meeting, before getting together again March 13 at a work session, part of a series of strategy meetings that also include Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio and Blausey.

While JCPS has hired staff to smooth the application process, some school districts have not yet begun the process.

Blausey said, for example, that JCPS is the only district in the state to have hired a point person for charter school applications. And, she said, once applications roll in, JCPS may hire more staff to help with evaluations and logistics. (Story continues below.)

JCPS, with about 100,000 students, is, by far, the state’s largest district, and Blausey said other districts might not have the resources to hire staff to examine applications. Those districts may simply receive the state application, but Blausey said being proactive allows JCPS to strengthen the process by asking Louisville-specific questions that can help the district figure out whether the applicant understands and can address local challenges.

The KDE told Insider that it had not received any inquiries from any school districts about the charter school application process and referred other questions to the districts.

Officials with Oldham, Shelby, Spencer and Fayette counties could not be reached. A spokesman for Hardin County Schools, which has about 14,700 students, told Insider that figuring out how to field charter school applications was not yet on the school board’s radar, though, he said via email, the district “will certainly follow the standards and timelines set before us.”

Keith Davis, superintendent for Bullitt County Schools, said that the district does not expect to do anything unless it gets an application, which, given the state’s funding uncertainties, he believes is unlikely.

“Building simple structures just for the sake of building them is a waste of time,” Davis told Insider via email.

“I believe we have a pretty good understanding of the process in the proposed regulation, but honestly, without funding … I don’t see anyone … with any reasonable skill set proposing to start an effective public charter school,” Davis said.

Districts have to prepare despite funding uncertainties

The state’s point person for charter schools, Earl Simms, had told Insider last week that it was “extremely unlikely” that any charter schools would open in the commonwealth unless legislators establish a permanent way to allocate money for such schools.

Money for the charter schools program will run out June 30 and, as of yet, it is unclear how — or even whether — the legislature will funnel public dollars to the schools.

While the charter law spells out some requirements for authorizers, such as applicant interviews and community forums, it leaves many decisions to the school districts. That means JCPS and others have to figure out the application process — including what parts of the applications looks like and who reviews them — the criteria by which staff determine whether to approve a charter school and the standards — including academic, organizational, governance, climate/culture and financial — by which they will measure a charter school’s success or failure.

That includes establishing procedures for how to amend the charter contract, how to monitor the charter school’s operation, how information is shared with the public and how a charter school would be closed.

Marty Pollio

Pollio told Insider recently that the district should make sure that its application reflects the district’s desire that the charter school operator target underperforming students.

“Are they serving a need in an identified achievement gap group?” Pollio asked.

The acting superintendent emphasized at a recent work session that JCPS should deny applications for schools that do not have high degree of certainty for success. While denials can be appealed at the state, Pollio said that should not concern JCPS.

The application review process won’t be easy — though it has to be fairly quick: Districts have to issue a decision 60 days after they receive an application, which easily can reach 350 pages that will include complicated financial information, including a five-year budget.

Joe McNealy, a Louisville resident who had planned to file a charter school application with JCPS this year until the state’s funding uncertainties prompted him to try to start a school in Indiana first, told Insider that his application for the Louisville school was nearing 300 pages — and that was long before the district had even finalized what its application and application process would look like.

Blausey said that while charter applications could arrive soon after the district solicits for them in mid-April, she would encourage potential operators to wait, because JCPS will offer orientation sessions to explain the process and answer questions.

Once applications start hitting desks at other Kentucky school districts, she expects that other school leaders will have lots of questions as well.

“I anticipate probably getting lots of calls,” she said.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.