Kentucky fails in first round to get Race To The Top money

The Obama administration said Monday it is awarding Race To The Top education grants to only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, leaving Kentucky out of the first round of the $4.35 billion program.

Kentucky, one of 16 finalists, had hoped to receive $200 million to implement a wide-ranging update to the state's P-12 public education program. However, the state still could be eligible for money in the second round of grants this summer, when 10-15 more winners are expected.

Kentucky Education Secretary Terry Holliday said Monday afternoon that he plans to have a report ready for Gov. Steve Beshear and General Assembly leaders by late Tuesday, outlining steps that possibly could be taken in the remaining days of the legislative session to enhance Kentucky's chances in the second round.

One possibility cited by Holliday was legislation providing for charter schools in Kentucky, which he said could immediately add 32 points to Kentucky's Race score.

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

Meanwhile, two Republican legislators later Monday afternoon urged their colleagues to consider charter schools as a way to boost Kentucky's Race chances. The two — Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, and Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville — both sponsored charter legislation in this session.

Also Monday afternoon, a citizens group calling itself Parents for Improving Education issued a statement asking Beshear and Holliday to begin work on charter school legislation to lift Kentucky's Race odds.

Only three working days remain in the legislative session, but it's still possible for lawmakers to adopt a charter school bill.

The Race To The Top program — part of President Obama's economic stimulus package — is designed to encourage educational reform by rewarding states that undertake creative new initiatives.

According to information posted on the U.S. Department of Education's Web site, Kentucky ranked ninth in the first round of Race To The Top. The state's final score was 418.8 points.

Delaware, which ranked first, received a score of 454.6, and Tennessee's score was 444.2 points.

Georgia finished third with 433.6 points, and Florida was fourth with 431.4 points. Neither received a grant.

Beshear issued a statement saying that although he is disappointed Kentucky didn't win a first-round grant, he thinks the state is "on the right track" for the second round. The governor said he'll work with the state education department and lawmakers to "find other areas we can improve upon."

The state apparently could receive no more than $175 million if it's successful in the second round, according to postings on the federal education department site.

"With the combined efforts of my office, the Department of Education and the General Assembly, Kentucky will remain a strong contender for the second phase of these federal funds," Beshear said. "In the meantime, we will continue to move forward with our vision for education reform."

Holliday said federal education officials would release detailed comments and information on each state's first-round application. State officials will analyze that data to look for things Kentucky could do to raise its score in the next round, he said.

"We'll begin reviewing the scores and comments ... for the second round immediately," Holliday said. "This does not mean that the work outlined in Kentucky's plan will not be done — it just means that we'll have to work harder to ensure that every funding source is tapped."

He said he was somewhat surprised that only two winners were named in the first round. State officials had expected as many as four or five winners, he said.

In an effort to give the state's application added weight, the Kentucky General Assembly in early January quickly pushed through a bill to strengthen the state's ability to turn around failing schools.

But an effort to add extra ammunition by providing for charter schools failed to get out of the Senate Education Committee. At the time, opponents argued that adding charter schools could jeopardize widespread support for the Race application among Kentucky educators.

The federal government had indicated that states with charter schools would have an advantage in the Race judging.

Monday, Holliday said he wants to review federal comments on Kentucky's application to determine where the state might have come up short. He plans to include that in his report to Beshear and lawmakers on Tuesday. But it is known that the state had a "32-point handicap" because its application lacked provisions for charter schools, Holliday said.

"That's our handicap, and I don't know if that's something Kentucky wants to take up or not," Holliday said. "I'll have to leave that to the politicians. But it looks like we need about 30 more points."

Both Delaware and Tennessee have charter schools, but so do many finalists that didn't win grants on Monday. Kentucky was the only state among the 16 finalists that does not have charter schools.

It wasn't immediately known how much Race money Tennessee and Delaware will receive. Tennessee had asked for about $500 million, and Delaware had applied for about $100 million, according to The Associated Press.

Federal officials will collect a second round of applications in June. Kentucky and other states that didn't make the cut in the first round will get a second chance then.

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