Frankfort Local News

Budget Cuts Will Mean Delay in Education Reforms

More cuts to Kentucky’s education budget will slow down the implementation of a landmark reform law.

Senate Bill 1 is a wide-ranging education law that replaced Kentucky’s school testing system with stronger tests and content standards. Currently only English and math standards have been developed. And with a 4.5 percent cut planned for the Department of Education in Governor Steve Beshear’s latest budget proposal, new standards in other subjects are going to be delayed.

“I think the reality is, it is what it is with the existing budget situation,” says Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. “So I think all we’re trying to get is as much flexibility to implement Senate Bill 1 as possible and also an awareness we may have to slow down on a few components of Senate Bill 1 til budgets pick back up.”

Those components are the new standards for science and social studies.

House legislators don’t appear concerned with the threat of a slowdown. But Holliday says the delays could last for five years if cuts are made now. Additionally, a projected increase in students will mean a five dollar per pupil reduction in SEEK formula funding, which will not be increased under Beshear’s budget proposal.

In all, the department requested an additional $43 million dollars to help with school improvements, college readiness and other important projects. After a budget committee meeting today, Holliday said he doesn’t expect his department will receive any of those funds.

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In Depth: Officials React To "Race To The Top" Exclusion

Reaction was swift to word that Kentucky has again failed to snare federal Race to the Top dollars. 

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In mid-January, lawmakers were rushing to approve Kentucky’s Race to the Top application.  That’s a federal stimulus program pitting states against each other for $4 billion in school improvement funds. 

Republican leaders in the legislature wanted Kentucky’s application to include charter schools, but a bill to that effect died on a tie vote in Senate committee.  Casting the deciding vote against charter schools was Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington.

“I just felt like it was time that we didn’t need to be looking into which districts were going to come onboard with this, and which ones were not,” said Kerr. 

Charter schools are publicly funded, but are freed from some state regulations in exchange for greater accountability.  Despite omitting them from its application, Kentucky became a first round finalist in the Race to the Top.  But in March, the Obama Administration announced only two states – Tennessee and Delaware – would share $600 million.  That left another $3.4 billion for states to fight over. 

In May, with a second federal deadline looming, Gov. Beshear summoned lawmakers to Frankfort for a special session on the budget.  Democratic Rep. Harry Moberly of Richmond was among lawmakers urging Beshear to add charter schools to the agenda. 

“Which would get us about $175 million, not to mention the $300 or $400 million that’s available through private foundations,” said Moberly.

But the governor balked, saying there was no general agreement on the issue.

“We also want to try to make this special session as short as possible,” said Beshear.

But again, with charter schools still absent, Kentucky emerged a finalist in the Race to the Top.  However, when the second round’s ten winners were announced, Kentucky was not on the list.

“We got zero points for charter schools, so we were at a 32 point deficit even before the judging began,” said state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday (pictured).

“That’s kind of what I’ve been telling everybody – that this particular pot of money did require charter school legislation,” said Holliday.

Senate President David Williams is disappointed with Kentucky’s failed effort, and plans to keep fighting for charter schools.

“In extremely difficult economic times that money would have been very useful in implementation of Senate Bill 1 – and in order to make sure that we address some of the pressing education issues that we have in the state,” said Williams.

But Sharon Oxendine of the Kentucky Education Association has no regrets over the group’s opposition to charter schools.  She says Kentucky schools already include charter school concepts, thanks to the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act.

“They’re autonomous,” said Oxendine.  “They’re in charge of their own hiring.  They’re in charge of their own budgets.  Teachers are certified.  They are accountable.  So, we think site-based council rule, or governing, in the State of Kentucky is far better than charter schools.”

Congressional support for a third round of Race to the Top funding is questionable, and without federal prodding, small, rural states like Kentucky may be less inclined to approve charter schools.  So, is the charter school issue dead in Kentucky?  Gov. Beshear.

“I don’t think so,” said Beshear.  “I think that’s an issue that will be discussed in the future.  And as I’ve said, I think if it’s used properly, it can be a useful tool.”

So, while the debate over charter schools continues to rage in Kentucky – Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia are deciding how to spend $3.4 billion.

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Kentucky Again Finalist For Federal Education Money

For a second time, Kentucky is a finalist for federal Race to the Top education reform dollars.

Kentucky is one of 19 states and the District of Columbia named finalists for Race to the Top funding.

The others are Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

All are vying for a share of $3 billion, with Kentucky standing to gain $175 million. Tennessee and Delaware, which won the first round, split $600 million.

Possibly working against Kentucky in the second round is the lack of charter schools, which lawmakers failed to approve in the 2010 General Assembly, despite pleas from Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.

Local News

Porter Appointed To JCPS Board Seat

By Rick Howlett

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has appointed Diane Porter to fill a vacancy on the Jefferson County Board of Education, according to the Courier-Journal.

The 61 year old Porter was a longtime principal, teacher and administrator for JCPS, and retired in October.

She was one of four candidates interviewed for the seat by a special state panel, which made a recommendation to Holliday.

She’ll assume the seat left vacant by the early retirement of Ann Elmore, whose term expires at the end of the year. Porter is one of three candidates who have filed for election to a full term. The others are Phyllis Morton and Attica Scott.

The seat covers central and western Louisville.

Holliday notified Porter Thursday of the appointment in a letter also obtained by the Courier-Journal.

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New State Education Commissioner Begins Work

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Kentucky’s new Commissioner of Education is on the job.

Last month, after a nationwide search, the Kentucky Board of Education hired 2009 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year, Terry Holliday, to be the commonwealth’s new Commissioner of Education. Holliday’s now on the job and has attended his first meeting of the school board since his hiring. He says in the last few weeks, he’s been spending a lot of time on the phone. terry-holliday1

“I’ve talked with representatives from school-based councils, KESA, KEA, KASA, KSBA, Prichard Committee, Southern Association and many more alphabet groups!” said Holliday, to board laughter.

Holliday says he’s also been talking with former commissioners, reading education blogs and receiving lots of emails.

“What I found is a sense of pride about education in the commonwealth, a strong desire to refocus our education system and very friendly, supportive and hardworking people,” said Holliday. “I’ve learned many things about what is expected of the Department of Education, the commissioner and the education system in Kentucky.”

Holliday, who’s been awarded a four-year contract at $225,000 a year, says he’s looking forward to traveling the commonwealth in coming weeks and visiting local school districts.

“I haven’t looked exactly at my schedule, but I know I’ll be getting close by around,” said Holliday. “I’m trying to visit with the previous interim commissioner, Elaine Farris in Clark County. I’ll be talking to Stu Silberman over in Fayette County. And I’ll be getting out quickly as I can.”

“I’m meeting with co-ops, superintendent co-ops,” he continued. “I asked Lisa there to set me up some meetings with editorial boards, to try to get out and meet with newspaper staff, too. And if you want me on the radio, just give me a call.”

For now, Holliday is living in a two-bedroom apartment in a Frankfort hotel, but says he and his wife will soon go house hunting. He wants to live close to work, so likely won’t be making any long commutes. State school board member David Karem of Louisville says Holliday is off to a smooth start and making a good impression.

“The new commissioner’s a guy that will sell well across the state of Kentucky,” Karem told Kentucky Public Radio. “I really think he will be received at every corner as a guy that really can be helpful.”

Seconding that is State School Board Chairman Joe Brothers, who’s very impressed with Holliday.

“He’s already been in contact, it seems like with half the people in the state already,” said Brothers. “But, collaboration. And that’s what he’s doing. He’s getting people’s input and positioning himself to be aware of the needs of people and the students of Kentucky and get ready to move us forward.”

After welcoming Holliday to Frankfort, the school board elected Brothers to a third, one-year term as chairman. What’s he hope to accomplish in his next term?

“I want to stay out of the commissioner’s way and let him take Senate Bill 1 and move us forward in an accelerated basis to helping kids,” said Brothers.

Senate Bill 1, approved by lawmakers in the 2009 regular session, is the first major revision of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. The measure replaces the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS, with a nationally standardized test allowing for comparisons with school performance in other states. It also allows individual student performance to be tracked from year to year. Holliday will be overseeing its implementation, as well as addressing the state’s high dropout rate, and working to reduce the need for remedial courses for at least 50% of high school seniors headed to college.