Public school advocacy group goes after Kentucky lawmaker for supporting charter schools

(The Center Square) – An organization that advocates for public school teachers and other employees said Monday it filed an ethics complaint against a northern Kentucky state lawmaker.

The group claims state Rep. Kim Banta, R-Fort Mitchell, will benefit from a bill she voted for last week because it contains language regarding charter school pilot projects.

Banta voted last March 22 for House Bill 9, which passed by a narrow 51-46 margin. Earlier that same day, Banta also cast a yes vote as part of an 11-9 decision in a House Education Committee hearing on the bill. That allowed the bill to go to the floor.

KY 120 United-AFT said it submitted a complaint to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission after the Louisville Courier Journal reported on Banta’s ties to William Butler. Butler serves as chairman of Corporex Companies LLC, which plans a $1 billion investment in Newport in northern Kentucky.

The CJ’s article noted Butler is an ardent supporter of private schools and previously wanted to build an “urban academy” in the area as a private school. Banta’s husband also works as the chief real estate officer for the development company.

HB 9 deals with establishing charter schools in the state and calls for the Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents or a collective of school boards in the region to oversee a charter school pilot project. The bill also includes language about an “urban academy” charter school.

Charter schools are public schools that are established by private organizations. They do receive public funding but are controlled by the entity operating them. Critics say allowing charters take public tax dollars away from the school systems that need them. In contrast, proponents say charters provide educational innovation and opportunities that aren’t available in public school systems.

Stacy Crosslin, a spokesperson for Kentucky 120 United AFT, said Monday the group believed Banta violated the state constitution when she voted for the bill. She said she and others are tired of seeing people benefit from “unacceptable political favors” coming out of the capitol.

“It is not uncommon to see a large campaign donor getting a factory or road placed in their hometown or to notice that new gravel starts appearing on rural roads, always seemingly near election time,” Crosslin said. “It just feels shameful to see what appear to be deals made off the backs of our children.”

In a statement Monday afternoon, Banta said she had not yet been given a copy of the complaint and would not speak on it until she reviewed it.

However, she also lashed out at “false rumors” that she claimed “were deliberately spread on social media” to drown out “rational conversation” about school reforms.

“In the meantime, I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, and my priority continues to be serving the people of my district and advocating for students and parents,” she said.

The group also called for the bill to be pulled from Monday’s agenda for the Senate Education Committee.

However, HB 9 passed out of there after a contentious meeting Monday afternoon on an 8-3 vote. That means the Senate may take up the matter either Tuesday or Wednesday before Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto consideration period begins Thursday.

KY 120 United-AFT also called on any senator who received campaign funding from Butler to recuse themselves from voting for the bill.

It’s expected Beshear would veto the bill if it gets to his desk.

Lawmakers will return to Frankfort on April 13-14 and have a chance to override any vetoes. The General Assembly can do so with a simple majority in both chambers.