State looks to improve its chances in Race To The Top competition

but beshear cool to idea in bid for funds

jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 31, 2010 

State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday on Tuesday listed six ways Kentucky could improve its federal Race To The Top application, including passing legislation providing for charter schools.

The state also could pick up points by working on teacher evaluation, he said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Steve Beshear told reporters he has mixed feelings about charter schools, which he said have done well in some places but haven't performed as hoped in others.

Charter schools are granted special permits, or charters, that allow them to operate outside usual state regulations.

Beshear said he will sit down with Holliday to go over Kentucky's Race application and look for ways to strengthen it.

Holliday noted in his analysis that passing charter-school legislation almost certainly would require a special legislative session, and "I am unsure that there is support for a special session."

However, Senate President David L. Williams, R-Burkesville, said Tuesday afternoon he thinks charter schools and teacher evaluations could be addressed in the current session, with no need for a special session.

"Commissioner Holliday ... correctly identified teacher evaluations and the lack of inclusion of charter schools as two missing components that cost Kentucky in the Race To the Top grant application process," Williams said in a statement. "Both components have been strongly supported by the Republican Senate Majority and were omitted because of opposition from the teachers' unions."

Only Beshear can call a special session for charter schools.

Kentucky was one of 16 finalists in the first round of grants from the $4.35 billion Race program. The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday it was giving grants to only Delaware and Tennessee, leaving Kentucky to hope for better luck in the second round this summer.

Both Beshear and Holliday said they think Kentucky can be competitive in the next round.

Holliday released his analysis Tuesday, after going over Kentucky's original application and comparing it with the applications of other finalists.

According to Holliday's analysis, Kentucky could boost its second-round chances by improving its application in categories including data systems; standards and assessments; great teachers and leaders; and turnaround of struggling schools.

Some improvements could be accomplished quickly, he said. For example, Kentucky probably could "max out" its score in standards and assessments just by updating its application with new information. Kentucky is only a few points behind in several of the areas, he said.

Other areas would require more time and work, he said.

Holliday said the state could add 10 points to its score in the great teachers and leaders category by addressing teacher evaluation in the state. He said doing that would require support from the Kentucky Education Association.

In other areas, Holliday said, Kentucky would need to look for ideas by reviewing the applications of other states that received higher scores.

He said Kentucky's application ranked last in the "general" area of the Race To The Top, "totally due to the lack of charter schools." Having charter school provisions would have increased the state's score by 32 points, he said.

But "without support from the General Assembly to pass charter legislation there is no need to address this area," he said.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.

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