Friday, May 14, 2010

Special Session to Focus on Budget Only

This week, Governor Steve Beshear called for a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly. At the time of this blog, the only agenda item is the budget. The special session was called for the week of May 24, and the Governor hopes for a five-day session, which is the minimum to pass legislation. You can see the Governor’s compromise budget and letter to the legislators here.

As commissioner, I am very proud of the Governor for maintaining a focus on education. The Governor is asking for no reduction in instruction for our children and no pay cuts for our teachers. Given the economic imperative that we improve our education outcomes in Kentucky, I am excited to see this focus on maintaining the critical elements of instruction and support for teachers.

While we had hoped to address charter schools in the special session, it does not appear that there is consensus on this issue at this time. While charter schools would have helped with our Race to the Top application for $175 million in federal funds, charter school legislation also would have opened up numerous windows of funding for innovation.

We have significant interest in Kentucky to implement early colleges and middle colleges. These programs have excellent track records across the country. They focus on helping more students graduate from high school with college- and career-readiness skills. Also, these programs help students graduate from high school with significant college credit hours (up to 60 or more). And, these programs are excellent interventions for students who may be considering dropping out of school at age 16.

During the regular legislative session, House Bill 301 focused on raising the dropout age. Early/middle colleges would have been great answers to how we provide programs to support the students who stayed in school because the age requirement would have been raised. Charter legislation would have provided an opportunity to access significant grant dollars from the federal charter school program. We had applied for up to $10 million to plan and implement 15 early/middle colleges. Without legislative support, we will not be eligible for these funds and many foundation funds that we were seeking.

What I have learned in many years of this work is that when one door closes, other doors open. We have one objective at the Kentucky Department of Education. We will work to help districts and schools meet the vision of every child graduating from high school “college- and career-ready.”

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