The regular legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly has ended, and a few things should be noted. First and arguably most important, we do not have a budget. Also noteworthy, however, is that legislators were unable to get a bill through which contained a provision creating charters schools in the commonwealth. kentucky is one of only 11 states that have not passed charter school legislation, but during this legislative session lawmakers came ever so close to making the charter school idea a reality in Kentucky. The last minute push for the somewhat controversial (at least in Kentucky) education reform came as a result of Kentucky failing to win federal funding in the Race to the Top competition. Kentucky did successfully make it to the finals of the first round, but in the end, not having charter school legislation proved to be too costly for the state’s application to win funding.
The Kentucky House Education Committee approved a bill this week that would raise the state’s compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 by the year 2015. The bill states that Kentucky’s high school graduation rate must be a least 90% by July 1, 2015. Advocates of the bill cite the social and economic importance of children earning a high school diploma in the 21st Century. Currently, compulsory attendance ages across the country range from 16 to 18 years of age. Several states currently have compulsory attendance ages of 18, including CA, CT, HI, LA, and NE; but there is no correlation between states’ compulsory attendance ages and their high school graduation rates (here is a list of state’s compulsory attendance ages by state).
Kentucky State University (KSU) is preparing to launch a new program, the Promising Youth Center for Excellence, in which KSU students will serve as mentors to a group of Hispanic and African-American students identified as “at-risk.” The US Department of Health and Human Services funded initiative will bring together the struggling students, KSU mentors, parents, and community members in a collaborative effort to meet students’ needs. The underlying assumption of such a program is that schools, parents, and communities working collaboratively puts students in a much better position to be successful. Also fundamental is the idea that universities–including students–can serve as facilitators of this type of collaboration.
This week the Kentucky House of Representatives passed /files/2/0/0/6/0/216301-206002/Kentucky_House_Bill_160.doc”>House Bill 160 would limit credit hour requirements for all bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree programs to 120 hours; and limit all associate of arts and associate of science degrees to 60 credit hours. The bill would, however, allow the Council on Postsecondary Education to approve exceptions to the requirement for “specialized programs that comply with specific program standards established by external accreditation bodies or for other reasons deemed necessary by the council. The stated intention of the measures is to increase the four-year graduation rate of students in public universities.
After much talk about the possibility of “Race to the Top” influencing Kentucky to adopt charter school legislation, the Senate Education Committee today voted down an amendment that would have given life to the charter schools in the Commonwealth. The proposed measure would have only allowed for the conversion of chronically low-performing schools into charter schools. Critics of the proposed amendment argued that a last-minute change in the state’s Race to the Top application allowing for charter schools would have derailed the nearly unanimous support of the state’s school districts. In reality, however, unanimous support was not what lawmakers were afraid of losing. They were afraid of losing the support of the largest and arguably most influential district in Kentucky, Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisiville). Kentucky’s Education Commissioner said that the loss of district support of the application as a result of including charters could be more costly to the state’s application than not including the charter schools provision.
So here is my issue: If charter school policies are written at the state level, meaning individual states decide what charter schools are, who can authorize them, how they will be authorized, how they will be held accountable, who they will be held accountable to, and how they will be funded; what is it about the general charter school concept that Kentuckians are so adamantly opposed to? It is completely natural that state teachers unions would oppose a charter school policy that does not require charter school teachers to be state certified. I get that. But who says that a charter school policy has to include that kind of provision. Any survey of state charter school policies shows clearly that a charter school is whatever a state wants it to be. And to be honest, charter schools in many states don’t operate significantly different than traditional public schools in Kentucky with school-based decision making councils. If someone is fundamentally opposed to school decentralization, and holds that many school decisions should in fact be made at levels higher than the school building administration, then yes, it is understandable that that persons would be opposed to the charter school concept. But that person would also be opposed to school-based decision making in any form.
Whether or not Kentucky ever adopts charter school legislation is not important to me. But what is important to me is that Kentuckians discuss and even debate the real issues; not misperceptions of issues. The education of children in Kentucky is too important to shut out possibilities because we don’t want to take the time to truly understand new ideas and have substantive, not political, discussions about them. I make this argument about charter schools and any other education policy issue that comes around. I say to my students all the time, you can take any position you want, but be able to substantiate it. Charter schools may not be right for Kentucky, but we need to do the work of coming to that conclusion.The decisions that we make about our children’s education must be based on reason; not feelings, not politics, and not what friends in other states say. Let’s do things right Kentucky. We owe it to our kids.
During a recent interview on KET’s (Kentucky Educational Television) “One to One with Bill Goodman,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday expressed optimism about the Commonwealth’s chances of getting federal funds in the US Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” competition. The commissioner cited the Gate’s foundation’s funding of a consulting firm to help Kentucky craft its “Race to the Top” application as evidence that Kentucky’s education reform efforts are recognized and appreciated nationally. When asked whether Kentucky being one only ten states not having charter school legislation might hurt the state’s chances of receiving fundings, Holliday said that he did not believe it would. He talked about the possibility of integrating successful school models like KIPP (Knowlege Is Power Program) schools into the school-based decision-making framework already in place in Kentucky as one strategy for turning around persistently failing schools, but he did not indicate that charter schools were on the horizon in Kentucky. While acknowledging that Kentucky nor any other state could be assured of receiving funds, Dr. Holliday said that he felt good about Kentucky’s chances. As a new Kentuckian, I hope he’s right.
Kentucky State Representative Carl Robbins, chair of the House Education Committee, announced to a group of University of Kentucky education faculty and graduate students today that the House Education Committee would hear a bill during the next legislative session proposing amendments to principal selection in Kentucky. Presently, the Kentucky school based decision making statute (KRS 160.345) gives school-based councils the authority to select a new principal when a vacancy occurs. This policy has come under attack by district superintendents who the policy prevents from having a hand in selecting principals. The obvious intent of the statute was to give teachers and parents at the school building level the opportunity to choose a school leader who they believe is best able to meet their school’s unique needs. However, several concerns with the policy have emerged. First, while councils are vested with the authority to select principals, once hired, principals are held accountable to district superintendents who can legally fire them. In some instances, personality mismatches, political differences, or sheer incompetence on the part of the selected candidate have resulted in strained relationships between principals and superintendents. Because councils have varying levels of education expertise and represent diverse interests and ideologies, the reasons for their selecting a candidate may or may not be based on the candidates ability to provide effective school leadership. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the Kentucky legislature does with the policy.