Education commissioner asks that charter schools be added to legislative session

jwarren@herald-leader.comMay 14, 2010 

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said Thursday he still hopes that charter schools can be added to the call for a special legislative session this month.

Gov. Steve Beshear announced Wednesday he will call the session May 24 to consider the state budget, but he did not include charter schools legislation on the agenda.

Holliday has said passing legislation providing for charter schools in Kentucky is essential to the state's chances of winning up to $175 million in the second round of the federal Race To The Top grants program next month. Because of that, he's still trying to persuade leaders in the state House and educators to go along with the idea so charters could be added to the special session call.

"We're still working behind the scenes toward that end; we haven't been closed off yet," Holliday said Thursday. "We've done our legwork. Now it's kind of up to the leadership of the House. I don't think there's a problem in the Senate."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said late Thursday he has not talked with Holliday about charter schools being on the call for the special session.

"But I would be happy to see if he has a vote count showing enough support in the House," Stumbo said. "Personally, I remain skeptical."

Legislative observers generally doubt charter schools could pass the House unless the Kentucky Education Association and teacher organizations in Jefferson County agreed to support the legislation, or at least decided not to actively oppose it. Jefferson County is where most of the interest in charter schools has been centered.

Holliday said Thursday he thinks most interested parties are getting behind the legislation.

"I don't know of any requirement that any stakeholder has given us that we haven't accommodated," he said. "I think behind the scenes we've gotten most all of the stakeholders ... they're not happy with it, but they're OK with it. They understand why we're doing it."

Holliday has prepared a draft charter schools bill. He said the next step would be for some House member to introduce it.

"I can't introduce legislation," he said. "We need somebody to introduce the legislation, and then the House Education Committee needs to be willing to hear it, which means the House leadership needs to let it be heard."

The Kentucky Department of Education hopes to use money from Race To The Top to implement Senate Bill 1, a wide-ranging education reform measure that the state legislature approved in 2009. Among other things, it requires a new statewide student testing system and new core content standards that must be ready for the 2011-12 school year.

Without Race funding, implementation would be tough, Holliday said.

"I think it would pretty well stop SB 1 in its tracks," he said.

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

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