During round one, Kentucky's pitch came up empty. To offset the lack of a charter school law - and the lack of the 32 points that went with it - the Kentucky team argued that our school councils were allowed to ask for waivers of state regulations. But the feds didn't buy it. Perhaps that’s because there are no shining examples to point to. Or if there is such an example among the 20 schools that have been awarded waivers by the state board of education, it's apparently a secret.
But this was a second opportunity, and while waiting for word of the state's effort during phase II, several of us engaged in a little wishful hoping. Expressions of optimism, based on little evidence, revealed the hope that the feds might buy the school council argument the second time around. Or if we didn't really believe that, perhaps other factors like Kentucky's early adoption of common core standards might make Kentucky a sentimental favorite and cause reviewers to fudge Kentucky’s points skyward. But that didn't happen. Others were selected. Kentucky was not.
Holliday explained to KSBA why he had been optimistic, along with his ultimate disappointment - and the target of his disgruntlement was US Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He pulled no punches about the impact a lack of charter schools had on Kentucky’s application and questioned Duncan’s candor about the relative importance of charter schools in the RTTT process.
“We scored 412.4 points (on a 500-point scale) this time. We improved five points (from the initial review); however, losing 32 points on charter schools, I’m certain, kept us out of the funding,” Holliday said.
“I think it speaks highly of our reform agenda that Kentucky got this far in spite of a 32-point handicap.”
Every finalist funded in both rounds of RTTT has charter schools. Asked if the Obama Administration’s bottom line is “No charters, no money,” Holliday said, “The numbers sure indicate that, don’t they?
“I think the secretary…misled states,” the commissioner said. “What the secretary said and what the secretary actually did are two different things.” When he announced the RTTT Round Two finalists last month, Duncan downplayed the importance of charter schools as a critical reform factor.
And during a press conference Tuesday, Duncan said: “There's no one factor that helped make or break a state” in the competition.
Yet, the two states that won in the first round of the competition and the nine states and the District of Columbia that won in round two all have charter schools.
Duncan said the winners were chosen because they outlined the boldest plans for shaking up their public school systems.
A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday that charter schools “were just one part of the equation.”
“Everyone had multiple opportunities to win points and put their best foot forward,” said Justin Hamilton with the education department. “Winning states were those who put forth the most competitive plan and that took advantage of every point possible.”
Governor Steve Beshear told C-J that while he was disappointed the state did not secure the funding, he's “confident that the steps we are taking in education will significantly improve the education experience for Kentucky's students.”
Kentucky Education Association President Sharron Oxendine said, “Not getting the Race to the Top funds will slow down our ability to implement Senate Bill 1… at a time when the Kentucky General Assembly has not seen fit to provide adequate state funding for our schools — will make it even more difficult for Kentucky teachers to assure that all students reach their potential,” Oxendine said in a statement.
As for charters, Kentucky scored 8 points for "Enabling LEAs to operate other innovative, autonomous public schools" out of 40 points available in the category. -32 for no charter school law = $0. Kentucky's second round score was 412.4.
In their analysis, the Kentucky School Board Association took the position that the lack of charter schools in Kentucky was not the fatal blow.
Kentucky’s lack of charter schools meant the state wasn’t eligible for 32 points on the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) 500-point Race to the Top scoring rubric. That news led many people to conclude that the charter school issue cost the state $175 million in critical federal funds.
But a KSBA eNews Service analysis of the USED review panel scoring of Kentucky’s application found several other factors that cost the state an additional 55.6 points, almost twice as many points needed to have put Kentucky among the winning states.
Perhaps more importantly, even if the 2010 General Assembly had passed charter school legislation, the federal panel’s scoring of other state Race to the Top applications seriously calls into question claims that having charters would have guaranteed federal funds for Kentucky…
Kentucky’s overall score of 412.4 represented a loss of 87.6 points from the six major scored sections. That included 24.8 points from the “Great Teachers and Leaders” section (138 possible points) and another 17.4 points (125 possible) on the “State Success Factors” section. Other sections of the Race to the Top measurements cost Kentucky a total of 13.4 points. …
Ohio was the last state funded with a total score of 440.8 points, meaning Kentucky needed at least another 28.4 points to match the Buckeye State…
KSBA points out that,
None of the proposals that won funding … received the total possible 32 points for charter schools. Scores ranged from a high of 31.8 for the District of Columbia down to 21.8 points earned by Maryland. All of those states have charter schools, calling into question whether Kentucky could have earned the full 32 points based on having a brand-new law but no actual charter schools.
The average charter school-related score of the 10 proposals that won funding was 27.42 points. So even if Kentucky had been able to earn the average score of those other finalists, its overall score still would have fallen short of Ohio’s 440.8 score.
KSBA makes an interesting argument. And I read the reviewers comments in much the same way they did. But the logical extension of that argument is that Kentucky’s application wasn’t as strong in other areas as the state was led to believe – a curious position for KSBA to take – but perhaps it’s true.
Federal reviewers lauded Kentucky for its recent history of education reform and the subsequent gains in student achievement. Specifically noted were KERA, SB 168, SB 1, improved dropout rates, postsecondary enrollment and the use of technology to enhance educational opportunities in rural areas of the state. Kentucky was praised for the broad support for the state's plan and particular mention went to the Kentucky Education Association for its overall support of the state plan. Kentucky was commended for the specific support shown by higher education, but concern was expressed that while the state has multiple alternatives to certification, the overall approach to assuring that highly effective teachers reach the school where they are most needed is relatively passive.
Kentucky’s application and scores here:
Application PDF (2.00M)
Appendix PDF (94.3M)
Score sheet PDF (113KB)
Reviewers' comments and scores PDF (5.25M)
Reviewers were concerned that Kentucky might not be able to reach its ambitious improvement goals, particularly in math. The changes made to CATS in 2007 made it difficult for reviewers to confidently gauge more recent progress and the feds complained that Kentucky's team failed to explain how and if the scores are comparable since that time. One Race to the Top judge wrote, "This lack of analysis of the data raises questions as to the depth of the capability to use the data to make important policy decisions."
Moreover, the reviewers were concerned by the persistent achievement gap but were more concerned that the state was unable to articulate what caused Kentucky’s successes and failures, and therefore, the judges wondered whether Kentucky could learn from either.
Senate Bill 1 has already mandated a new test for Spring 2012. The prime motivation of the original Senate Bill 1 was to drive a stake through the heart of CATS, which old-school opponents of public schools have never liked. The version of Senate Bill 1 that passed in 2008 was a different bill. The question now is whether Kentucky can muster the funds to implement the plan.
The state was commended for SEEK’s (the Kentucky funding formula) ability to deliver equitable funding to local school districts, but reviewers complained that, within each district, funding is essentially distributed on a per-pupil basis and was therefore non-responsive to equity issues within districts. This has been true…forever.
Kentucky received praise for its commitment to standards and early progress toward the creation of a longitudinal assessment system which reviewers think will have a high probability of providing the state with the reliable data it needs to improve the concerns mentioned above.
Education Week reported a few common threads among the 10 victorious Round Two applicants. These included their promises to take bold approaches to turning around low-performing schools, and in evaluating teachers.
The New York Times noted that “Of the dozen states that have won major grants to date in the two-part grant contest that is the Obama administration’s signature education initiative, 11 are east of the Mississippi and most hug the East Coast, including Florida and Georgia in the South and New York and Massachusetts in the North. Among the winners, Hawaii is the lone geographic exception.”
Education Week reported that the second-round loss was a serious disappointment for a number of states. That includes Kentucky where the grousing has already begun. Once the news broke, and Holliday's “no charters – no money” warning came true, it was not hard to find politicians and pundits who were willing to point fingers.
For a couple of years now, Republican legislators have been floating bills that would pretty much throw open the doors to anyone wanting a charter school. Those bills met with silence. Republican leaders in the legislature wanted Kentucky’s application to include charter schools. Democratic were slow warming to the idea.
In May, with the clock ticking on RTTT Phase II, Gov. Beshear brought lawmakers to Frankfort for a special session on the budget. Democratic Rep. Harry Moberly of Richmond was among lawmakers urging Beshear to add charter schools to the agenda, “Which would get us about $175 million, not to mention the $300 or $400 million that’s available through private foundations,” Moberly said.
But the governor balked, saying there was no general agreement on the issue.
At the urging of Commissioner Holliday, Rep Harry Moberly filed a bill anyway; one that would have allowed charter school authorization by local school districts. That bill, died on a tie vote in the Senate education committee. Casting the deciding vote against charter schools was Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington who told WFPL FM “I just felt like it was time that we didn’t need to be looking into which districts were going to come onboard with this, and which ones were not,” said Kerr.
I have no idea what she meant by that.
Senate President David Williams expressed disappointment with Kentucky’s failed effort, and said he plans to keep fighting for charter schools.
“In extremely difficult economic times that money would have been very useful in implementation of Senate Bill 1 – and in order to make sure that we address some of the pressing education issues that we have in the state,” said Williams.
Williams was more direct is his comments to the Daily Independent. Williams said Beshear should have shown more leadership in persuading House opponents and teachers’ groups to support the measure.
“He’s wasn’t for charter schools, he’s never been for charter schools,” Williams said.
But Sharon Oxendine of the Kentucky Education Association has no regrets over the group’s opposition to charter schools. She says Kentucky schools already include charter school concepts, thanks to the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. “They’re autonomous,” said Oxendine. “They’re in charge of their own hiring. They’re in charge of their own budgets. Teachers are certified. They are accountable. So, we think site-based council rule, or governing, in the State of Kentucky is far better than charter schools.”
Martin Cothran of the Kentucky Family Foundation declared, That little horned creature with the pitchfork whispering into the left ear of state lawmakers that they should vote against charter schools is the KEA…”
Daviess County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton told the Messenger Inquirer that Kentucky addresses the issue, but not in ways that Race to the Top scorers found adequate.
"Kentucky already has a level of charter schools in the fact that we have site-based decision making at our schools. Therefore, you have parents and teachers who are the policymakers for their schools, decide the curriculum, assign the teachers and are responsible for the scheduling," Shelton said. "It's my opinion that if the state legislature and the federal government would remove the layers of regulation and bureaucracy from public school districts, we could create our own charter schools. We've evidenced that with what most people call alternative schools. That's what it's really about, personalizing education to meet the needs of students."
But again, that argument fell flat in DC.
Oxendine told H-L the loss of Race to the Top funds will make it less likely Kentucky will approve charter schools.
"There's no reason to change the system of public schools we have now," she said. "What we have to do is find the proper funding for our schools, especially to implement Senate Bill 1."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo issued a short statement: “It’s a shame that we lost an opportunity.”
Congressional support for a third round of Race to the Top funding is questionable, and without federal prodding, small, rural states like Kentucky may be less inclined to approve charter schools.
So, is the charter school issue dead in Kentucky? “I don’t think so,” said Beshear. “I think that’s an issue that will be discussed in the future. And as I’ve said, I think if it’s used properly, it can be a useful tool.”
State Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, who filed charter schools legislation earlier this year, told the Herald-Leader he will file another proposal next year. "Until we have charter schools in Kentucky, we will continue to fall behind other states who receive funding through 'Race to the Top,' which will have a long-term negative impact on our children and our economy," Montell said.
Phil Moffett has made the drive for charter schools in Kentucky a centerpiece of his Republican gubernatorial campaign.
Robert Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, said passing the charter school legislation would have been "pretty much a no-cost way to get $175 million."
Although his group favored the charter school legislation, Sexton said "It's hard to imagine that [charters] alone would drive these decisions on a federal level, and if it did it's just a shame and a serious mistake on the part of the U.S. Department of Education, because it's such a minor part of accomplishing what they're trying to accomplish in Race to the Top," Sexton said.
State Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said the loss makes the challenge of education funding "even greater for the General Assembly in the legislative session next year."
Tom Shelton, who is also the President of the Council for Better Education told the Messenger Inquirer that his own opinion on Race to the Top is less than positive.
"To me, dangling money out there like a carrot to get you to implement policy is in my mind, almost blackmail," Shelton said. "I think real change has to take place when our communities and our public step up and say, 'This is what we expect from our schools.' "Shelton said federal involvement of this sort is counterproductive, considering how little influence the federal government has in education otherwise.
"We have to continue to look to where education should be funded -- the state government, and not the federal government. It's not the federal government's role to fund education, and it never has been. It's always been up to the state," Shelton said. "It's disheartening to me. We only receive 8 percent of our funding from any federal source. It's hard to believe the federal government is trying to drive what education should look like."
Shelton said a large-scale change in education must focus on each student. That is already possible in Kentucky's schools, and charter schools simply for the sake of charter schools will not be a magic bullet, he said.
"Public schools and public education are the base of democracy, one of the basic strengths of who we are as a country. If all we do is privatize education, it might sound like the right thing to do because of the free enterprise system, but the reality is we will have no consistency. Some people will be highly educated, others inadequately educated," Shelton said.
The mandates expressed in Senate Bill 1 were never given the proper funding because of the state's financial problems. The state was counting on Race to the Top funds to make it happen, but that is clearly not happening now, Holliday said.
"The quick scenario I paint is, we're asking every classroom teacher in Kentucky to implement these rigorous standards. We're asking them to do it without any money for textbooks, no additional funds for interventions or additional resources," Holliday said. "Teachers are not going to be able to do this without support. It's now back into the ball court of the General Assembly. You have two choices, take existing dollars and redirect them into Senate Bill 1 or find new dollars."
Over at Prichard, Susan advises us to, “Keep calm and carry on.”
But amid all this local anxiety, one supposes things could be worse. Consider the situation in New Jersey where their 1000+ page application package for a potential $400 million included an error on page 261. State officials used the wrong years in describing funding levels for schools, a mistake that cost the state five points. Turns out that New Jersey scored 437.8, just behind Ohio’s 440.8 - the 10th and final state that qualified for funding.
NJ Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose office submitted the application, said his administration took responsibility for the mistake. But it didn’t sound like it as he blasted the application reviewers—and the Obama administration directly—for not being willing to overlook what he called a "clerical error" and seek the correct information from the state. "If you are a normal, thinking, breathing human being, you pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, you sent this one wrong paper, can we get the information?' Does anybody in Washington, D.C., have a lick of common sense? Christie asked.