The legislature in 2009 abruptly threw out Kentucky's school accountability system and ordered up a spiffy new replacement without providing any money to pay for it.
That explains the urgency in some unexpected quarters to get a charter-school law on the books.
Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, filed a bill on the first day of the special legislative session allowing boards of education to approve charter schools and creating a statewide virtual charter school.
It's an extreme long-shot given the divisiveness of the issue and the desire to quickly enact a budget and send lawmakers home.
Without federal funding, Kentucky can't afford to power up the new standards and testing system by the 2012 deadline set by the legislature last year.
The only source of federal funding, the Race to the Top competition, hinges on states having a law authorizing charter schools.
The state's finances have declined since last year. Temporary federal funding is already propping up the $3 billion budget for public schools. In the next fiscal year, schools are expected to receive $182 million from the federal legislation that's helping states weather the economic downturn.
That money will be gone by the second year of the next biennium, unless Congress provides new aid which seems unlikely in the current political climate.
So, unless Kentucky's economy makes a miraculous turnaround or the legislature raises taxes, Kentucky's schools will face sharp erosion in their basic funding at the same time they're expected to activate a new curriculum.
The state is also depending on federal funding to develop new tests to replace CATS. That money would go to consortia of states working to develop tests based on standards developed by a National Governors Association initiative.
Unlike Kentucky, the other states are not under a statutory deadline to roll out the new tests and won't feel compelled to meet our deadline.
It's unfortunate that the Obama administration's infatuation with charter schools will probably exclude Kentucky from a shot at $175 million. Kentucky was the first to adopt the new math and reading standards, has a strong proposal for improving teaching and a history of education reform.
It's outrageous that the legislature left educators and students in the lurch by throwing out the old without paying for the new.