Still No Charter Schools On Kentucky's Funding Application

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky received encouraging news this week regarding its second bid for federal Race to the Top dollars. But as Tony McVeigh reports, the state's application still may be lacking in one key area.

In the early days of the 2010 General Assembly, state lawmakers rushed to approve Kentucky's application for federal Race to the Top dollars. The $4 billion program provides states with hefty, financial incentives to improve persistently low-achieving schools. The legislature's Republican leaders wanted Kentucky's application to include charter schools, but a bill to that effect quickly died in the Senate Education Committee. The deciding vote was cast by Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington.

"It seems like the media always speculates that we have to vote rank and file," said Kerr. "But actually, we don't! We have minds of our own and we are able to vote what we feel is best for this state as a whole, but also for our district."

The vote pleased House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway, who's not a big fan of charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded, but are freed from some state regulations in exchange for greater accountability.

"In 17 percent of the cases, the students do better in charter schools," said Rollins. "In 37 percent of the cases, they do worse than they would in public schools. And in 46 percent of the cases, there's no significant difference."

In March, Kentucky learned it was one of 16 finalists in the Race to the Top competition. But in April, Tennessee and Delaware were declared the first-round winners and awarded $600 million.

In May, with a second Race to the Top deadline looming, Gov. Beshear prepared to call a special session on the state's budget impasse. He pondered whether charter schools should also be on the agenda.

"We're all interested in getting $175 million of federal money to help improve our education system," said Beshear. "So, I want to explore this issue to see if there is any room to move in that direction."

But when the call for the special session was issued, charter schools were not on the agenda. Despite the omission, Kentucky - along with 17 other states and the District of Columbia - is again named a finalist in the Race to the Top.

"I think it's good news that our application is still very strong," said Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. "And we get to go and make our case, and they'll probably pick 12 out of the 19 for actual funding."

But Holliday still wishes Kentucky's application contained charter schools.

"We're just going to have to do the best we can and really do a great presentation when we go to D.C., and try to overcome the charter school issue because schools and school systems in Kentucky sure need this shot in the arm right now."