Monday, June 29, 2009

Governor Not Pushing Charters at this time, but Will Apply for Federal Grant

Since desegregation, whenever a president was serious about accomplishing a particular national educational goal, they would get the states attention with a carrot and a stick, just the way President Lyndon B. Johnson taught them to do.

Being a southerner, LBJ knew the south was not going to desegregate its schools on the strength of a Supreme Court ruling alone. Following the Brown v Board of Education decision, 101 of 128 southern legislators vowed to defy the court's order by signing the Southern Manifesto. But the combination of the Civil Rights Act and the $4 billion Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in 1964 and 5, made it possible to hit reluctant school districts in the wallet if they failed to desegregate the schools. Then, of course, there were the federal troops.

Today KSN&C spoke to US Department of Education Press Secretary John White who is concerned with the current reauthorization of ESEA, now known as No Child Left Behind.

Tying each states' share of federal grant dollars to accomplishing Education Secretary Arne Duncan's goals, it is a strong inducement, indeed.

This was the case with Margart Spellings and No Child Left Behind. Kentucky resisted implementing the onerous portions of NCLB's assessment program because it forced the state to ruin a testing system that was somewhat experimental from the git go. In the end, Kentucky took the money - and ultimately passed Senate Bill 1, unanimously, saying it was time to relook KERA anyway. Kentucky couldn't afford to dismiss its share of the millions.

These days, the bait is billions.

White told KSN&C that "with the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Duncan would like to create more freedom" and "give educators the ability to think differently" about the schools." Part of thinking differently includes "welcoming charter schools."

Duncan has recently stated that those states lacking a charter law would be putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Since then, Governor Beshear met with Duncan and returned to Kentucky confident that Kentucky's school council law (KRS 160.345) would keep the state from being placed in jeopardy.

But I've been having a hard time seeing how that's likely to help.

Education Cabinet Secretary Helen Mountjoy has stated that

"Every school in KY which is meeting the learning achievement goals set for it can apply and receive a waiver from any state regulation other than those mandated by federal statute, those concerning health and safety and those concerning the state’s system of assessment and accountability."

But I can't find that in the law. All I see is an opportunity to waive "the administrative structure" of the council by proposing an alternative model.

KDE spokesperson Lisa Gross offered,

KRS 156.072 which says "a district superintendent (on request of the local BOE or an SBDM council) can submit a request to the KY Board of Education for a waiver rom a reporting requirement established by any other KRS that requires paperwork to be submitted to the KBE or KDE. Exceptions include paperwork necessary under federal law or related to health, safety or civil rights.

Gross said she "doesn't recall any specific instances of waivers being requested under this statute." But she is aware that,

"Districts can and do sometimes ask for waivers of specific regulations. Usually, a district BOE (rather than an SBDM council) will ask for a waiver of a specific regulation, and the KY Board of Education will review the request and make a decision. For instance, at the June KBE meeting, a request from the Ft. Thomas Independent district was on the agenda. The district asked for a waiver of 702 KAR 5:060, section 6(2), which relates to approval of common transportation carriers by local BOEs. Ft. Thomas asked that it be allowed to have a one-time annual approval of all certified common carriers to be used for the entire school year, instead of approving those on a case-by-case basis (as is called for in the regulation).

Under the school council law there have been a total of 20 exemptions granted - "13 in one-school district; 7 because of test scores," Gross said.

Asked if Duncan has changed his position on the issue, White said, "No."

Asked if he knew of any states that might be allowed an exception, White said, "No."

"If Kentucky was not open to welcoming these educational entrepreneurs that would certainly hurt your chances," White said. It's a competitive grant and other states are welcoming them."

Governor's office spokesperson Jay Blanton echoed Mountjoy's statement telling KSN&C,

Kentucky’s General Assembly has never taken up a Charter School bill probably because since 1991, all of our schools have elected school based decision making councils who make significant decisions about the governance of their schools.

While we are not at this time pushing a proposal for a charter school system, Kentucky will be applying for Race to the Top Grants.

Kentucky will offer a quality competitive application.

Kentucky has a strong history of education reform. Our system already provides for tremendous local control with rules in place that allow the takeover and reform of failing schools.

Every school in KY which is meeting the learning achievement goals set for it can apply and receive a waiver from any state regulation other than those mandated by federal statute, those concerning health and safety and those concerning the state’s
system of assessment and accountability.

Schools and districts are encouraged to use additional assessment programs as they find them helpful to identify and implement new approaches to enhance student

Besides Jefferson and Fayette counties, an average school district in KY has about 2250 students. Most of these are in locations where charter school companies are unlikely to invest. So, we have tried to replicate an alternative approach that offers “Charter-like” opportunities for each student – something that most other states are unable to do.

The Governor and Secretary Duncan have spoken. They talked about Kentucky’s historic reforms and the need for the federal government to financially support our
efforts to design a better system of assessment and accountability as prescribed in Senate Bill 1, which could serve as a national model.

Gov. Beshear did not talk to Sec. Duncan about creating charter schools, but did talk about how School Based Decision Making councils allow a lot of the autonomy and local control that charter schools can provide.

Blanton is correct to place the responsibility where it belongs - with the General Assembly which is ultimatlely responsible. But it's hard to square the governor's hopes with White's statement,

Race to the Top is a competitive grant that, in the end, will be judged by peer reviewers not by ED staff. The Secretary has announced publicly on several occasions that charter laws are among the criteria that will be used to judge Race to the Top applications. So states that do not have charter laws will certainly be at a disadvantage. These laws are not a “litmus test,” so states without charter laws (or with weak laws) will not be disqualified from Race to the Top – but they will be at a competitive disadvantage in the peer review process relative to other states.

My read is that Kentucky can compete for funds, but at a disadvantage, and that probably means fewer dollars for Kentucky kids. And, that's bad.

Legislators should start talking now - before the next session. There's a lot to hash out. In the meantime, the education cabinet ought to rethink its rationale.

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