Effort Underway to Allow Kentucky Schools to Act Like Charters

Oct 26, 2012

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday on Friday previewed an application process for public school districts wanting to operate more like charter schools, freed from a host of laws and regulations to run more independently.

Participating local districts would gain more flexibility on core issues such as curriculum, instruction, funding and school scheduling. In return, districts would offer commitments to improve student performance, especially among low-achieving students.

State education officials are still finalizing regulations overseeing the process. As a result, districts are unlikely to start getting the designations to operate more like charters until the 2013-14 school year.

Holliday said the initiative would foster classroom innovations that go beyond what existing laws and regulations allow.

"It will lead to programs and projects that are ... comprehensive, not just 'one-hit wonders,'" he said. "It will give our public school administrators the ability to really tailor education to meet the needs of students and to ensure they reach college and career readiness."

State education officials hope that advances made by the participating districts will spread statewide.

The initiative stems from legislation passed by the 2012 General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear.

It taps into the growing popularity of charter schools nationwide.

Kentucky has no charter schools, which are funded by taxpayers but operate independently of many of the laws and regulations governing traditional public schools. More than 2 million students nationwide now attend charters, a big surge in the last decade, and the Obama administration has encouraged their expansion through initiatives like Race to the Top, the multi-billion-dollar grant competition.

In Kentucky, districts wanting to be more charter-like would apply to the Kentucky Department of Education. The goal for applicants would be to gain designation as a "District of Innovation," which would apply to an entire district and not individual schools.

Districts would have to show broad local support for the designation, including from school staffs. Other requirements include demonstrating how risk-taking in education is rewarded and how being more charter-like would improve student performance.

Participating districts would have to make annual reports to the state and still comply with laws and regulations on health, safety, civil rights and disability rights.

They would also be bound to requirements dealing with such matters as compulsory attendance, core academic standards, minimum high school graduation standards and compliance with open records and meetings.

But participating districts would gain new leeway in running their schools.

For instance, districts could be more innovative in making assignments for teachers to let them become more specialized.

Also, districts could be more flexible in setting year-round calendars. For example, all teachers would work the usual 187 days during the year but they all might not work on the same days or the same hours. Or all students might not attend school during the same hours, while still meeting instructional time requirements.