David Cook, the Kentucky State Department of Education’s advisor for the “Race to the Top” program, suggested Tuesday that Kentucky probably will have to make changes in school governance structures that at least resemble the charter school concept in order to get “Race to the Top” funds. Currently, Kentucky’s school laws do not allow for the creation of charter schools. Cook suggested, however, that making changes to how school-based decision-making councils operate could give considerable freedom to the school councils of failing schools and put Kentucky in a better position to receive funding.
In the brief time that I’ve been in Kentucky, I’ve come to recognize that the term “charter school” is a bad word in some circles. But the reality is, and I’ve been saying this for some time now, the US Dept. of Education really likes the charter school concept as a strategy for turning around troubled schools. The specifics of charter school laws are different all across the country, but the basic idea is giving school leaders considerable decision-making power, and freeing them from many of the bureaucratic hurdles that traditional public schools have to jump through. To be honest, the charter school concept is not radically different from the school-based decision-making model already in place in Kentucky. School leaders/school councils already get considerably more discretion than traditional public school leaders in other states.
We’ll see what happens, but I believe it would be a mistake to not make these minor changes and miss out on the biggest pot of federal dollars the US Department of Education has ever had to give away.