State won't get federal funds without charter schools, education chief says

Without legislation enabling charter schools, Kentucky would finish out of the money in the second round of the federal Race To The Top program, said Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.

"If we don't improve 30 to 40 points, I do not think we'll be competitive," Holliday said Tuesday. "And the only way to get 30 to 40 points is with charter school legislation."

Meanwhile, the board of directors of the Kentucky Education Association, the public school teachers' union, voted Tuesday night to oppose a charter schools measure now pending in the General Assembly. KEA President Sharron Oxendine said the teachers organization is ready and willing to work with Holliday or the legislature to make the bill better.

Oxendine said KEA has several concerns about the measure as it is now written, including job security for teachers and potential effects on public schools.

Charter schools surfaced as a possible key to the state's Race chances last week, after Kentucky lost out in the first round, which saw Delaware and Tennessee as the winners.

At the time, Holliday said Kentucky failed to make the cut mainly because it lacks charter schools, which cost the state at least 32 points in the application for Race grant money.

In response, the Senate Education Committee hastily tacked a charter schools proposal onto another education bill — House Bill 109 — which squeaked through the Senate last Thursday. The bill returns to the House for consideration when lawmakers return to Frankfort on April 14. The legislative session ends April 15.

The general consensus around the Capitol is the charter school measure will face an uphill fight in the House and might have no chance if the Kentucky Education Association opposes it.

Holliday said he's urging the teachers' organization to maintain at least a neutral position on the issue. He met with KEA representatives earlier Tuesday.

Some conservative Kentucky lawmakers have been seeking charter school legislation for several years, but there's been little interest until Race To The Top. Kentucky hopes to land up to $175 million in the second round of the program, which is funneling money to states that demonstrate innovative efforts to improve education.

"I don't think we'd even be discussing charter schools without the Race To The Top," Holliday said Tuesday.

Applications for the Race's second round are due in June, and state education officials are reworking Kentucky's application now, looking for improvements that could add more points.

"I think we'll do a good job of getting another 10 to 15 points, but I think that some other states are going to come on board, and I think that without charter school legislation we would not be in the top eight states that I think will be funded," Holliday said

The New York Times reported Monday some states have lost enthusiasm for Race To The Top, with some officials wondering whether it's worth the time and expense to apply for the second round.

Holliday, however, discounted such talk, contending states can't afford to ignore the lure of federal dollars at a time when most are strapped for cash. He also predicted that several states which didn't apply during the first round will apply for the second. Kentucky could be pushed out of the picture if it doesn't significantly boost its Race score, he said.

Kentucky needs the Race dollars to pay for implementing Senate Bill 1, the wide-ranging 2009 state legislation that calls for revamping K-12 education statewide.

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