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Senate Advances Charter School and Prevailing Wage Measures

The Senate has taken swift action on legislation regarding charter schools and a prevailing wage exemption that angered Democrats over the hasty movement of the bills from committee to full floor vote.

Thursday afternoon the Senate Education Committee approved a bill to create a charter school pilot project in the state’s two largest cities. Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green) is sponsor of Senate Bill 8. He said efforts to boost student achievement can’t come fast enough.

Kentucky is among eight states that don’t have a charter school law. Charter school advocate Wayne D. Lewis is an educator and author of “The Politics of Parent Choice in Public Education.” As board chair of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, he testified that charter schools mitigate an increasing achievement gap among minority students.

Sen. Reggie Thomas (D-Lexington), a Harvard-educated attorney, questioned Sen. Wilson about whether charter schools would have to meet the same standards of transparency and accountability as mainstream public schools.

The legislation easily passed the Senate Education Committee, 8 – 2. It cleared the full Senate Friday morning on a 23 – 12 vote, which reflected the chamber’s partisan divide.

Prevailing Wage Measure Also Passes

The state House will take up a proposed change to Kentucky’s prevailing wage law after the Senate passed the measure Thursday afternoon. Senate Bill 9, which would exempt school construction projects from prevailing wage requirements, is northern Kentucky Republican Sen. Wil Schroder’s first bill to pass the chamber.

Bill Finn, a representative of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, took issue with a Legislative Research Commission study quoted by Sen. Schroeder. It found that prevailing wage requirements increase labor costs by 51 percent without a proportional increase in quality. Finn cited another study he says is more comprehensive.

Bill Londrigan of Kentucky’s AFL-CIO has advocated for prevailing wage for three decades. In his testimony before the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, he recalled multiple issues with school construction prior to the enactment of the prevailing wage laws, including cost overruns, construction deficiencies, and tardy completion dates. He explained why the prevailing wage law leads to better quality.

Senate Bill 9 cleared the panel on a partisan vote. It advanced to the full Senate Thursday afternoon – despite objections from Democrats, who argued that bills were being unduly railroaded from committee to the full chamber. The Senate then approved the prevailing wage exemption on a 24 – 12 vote.

Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day, and for a recap of the full day’s activities, watch Legislative Update, weeknights at 11 on KET. You can also follow the Kentucky General Assembly on KET’s Legislative Coverage app for your smartphone or tablet.

KET’s education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.