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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.

Local News

Kentucky Misses Out On Race To Top Dollars Again

Kentucky education officials are assessing what went wrong with the state’s second Race to the Top application.  Kentucky has again been denied federal funds.

In March, Tennessee and Delaware were awarded a total of $600 million for education improvements.  Now, school districts in nine more states and the District of Columbia will share another $3.4 billion.  Apparently, Kentucky’s application for federal funding was lacking one vital component. 

“We got zero points for charter schools.  So, we were at a 32-point deficit even before the judging began,” says Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.  “We kind of anticipated that.  That’s kind of what I’ve been telling everybody – that this particular pot of money did require charter school legislation.”

Legislation to include charter schools in Kentucky’s Race to the Top application died in the 2010 General Assembly.

Local News

Kentucky-In; Indiana-Out for Race to the Top Funds

Kentucky was on the list of 16 finalists the U.S. Department of Education announced today in the running for more than $4 billion in Race to the Top funds. But Indiana is out. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has more.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the announcement Thursday and said the department would interview representatives from the 16 finalists in mid March and announce the eventual winners in April.

Kentucky has applied for $200 million in Race to the Top funds. Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says his department is already preparing for its presentation.

“What we’re doing is trying to make sure that we have all the right team members,” Holliday says. “And we’re looking at all the other applications and saying, what’s different about Kentucky that we can make sure to reinforce at the presentation, and just making sure that we have good, clear deployment plans ready to go to work.”

Holliday says the state’s application included a lot of work that is already underway.

“We have a very comprehensive reform package that was led pretty much by our reform legislation in 2009 called Senate Bill 1,” he says. “And it pretty much mirrored exactly what Race to the Top was looking for.”

Last year, the Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 to revamp the state’s K-12 education system.

Some political observers and education experts had doubted that Kentucky would make the cut given that it doesn’t have a law allowing charter schools. Holliday says he didn’t see that as an obstacle.

“Our Kentucky Reform Act of 1990 actually created 1.200 charter schools in Kentucky,” he says. “All of our schools have site-based councils that are composed of parents and they make curriculum decisions. They hire the principal. We could find nothing that a charter school does that our site-based councils couldn’t already do.”

Holliday says the news is encouraging at a time when education is facing budget cuts.

Indiana, however, did not make the cut. Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett says he got the news via e-mail and Twitter messages. He says it was disappointing, especially after the state worked to meet criteria the federal education department gave states that applied. It included having charter schools and policies linking student data to teacher evaluations.

Bennett says the news doesn’t mean the Indiana plan is dead.

“We have told school corporations across the state of Indiana that we will implement this reform plan whether we are funded or not,” he says. “And the fact is we don’t believe money will solve the problem. What will solve the problem is for us to have the political courage, the political will to truly reform education in this state and we’re going to implement our reform agenda as we have planned.”

Bennett says he’s not sure how Indiana will handle its application in a second contest for funds due in June.

“We’re going to wait and see what we get back from the federal government, what feedback we get back from our technical advisors,” he says. “Obviously our interests will always be to pursue this reform money, but again, I’ll always back that up and say I don’t believe this is about money.”

Nearby states also on the list include Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois.

Local News

Two Schools To Share DOE Grant

Two Louisville high schools will share a three-year $1.5 million dollar federal grant.    The money is intended to help students become better connected with their schools. 

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support the concept called Smaller Learning Communities, which reduces class size, and offers more personal attention from teachers and advisors.                                                                

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman says the grant will go to Doss and Iroquois High School Magnet Career Academies in south Louisville.

“The smaller learning communities are critical to creating a more seamless transition from middle to high schools, and building a sense of community and belonging and nurturing students’s social and emotional needs and skills as they progress through high schools,” Berman said.

The concept includes an academy for incoming freshmen and a more specialized course of study for students in the 10th through 12th grades, tailored to their potential career paths.