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Will Race to Top Push Holdout States to Pass Charter Laws?

Kentucky was the ONLY state to reach the Race to the Top's "Sweet Sixteen" finalist pool that does not allow charter schools to operate.

Despite the federal competition's emphasis on providing "charter-friendly" policy and regulatory environments, Kentucky's political and education leaders, including state schools chief Terry Holliday, decided that a charter law wasn't absolutely necessary to put forth a strong bid for a piece of the $4 billion prize.

Of course, Kentucky fell short in its round one application, though it still finished ahead (9th out of 16 finalists) of several states that do have charter school laws. Still, the state didn't garner a single point—32 were possible—in the charter school category.

Now, with a June 1 deadline looming for applications to be filed for the second round of Race to the Top, Holliday is personally lobbying for a charter school measure in the Kentucky legislature. The Kentucky legislature resumes today for its final two days of session, so there are precious few hours left to get the bill passed.

If lawmakers there decide to support it, and there is still considerable doubt that they will, Kentucky could become the first of the hold-out states to pass a charter law because of the allure (or pressure) of winning Race to the Top dollars.

As we noted in this space two months ago, none of the 11 states that prohibit charters has so far been persuaded by RTTT money to change their laws.

Mississippi lawmakers approved a charter school measure late last month that would allow a limited number of low-performing schools in the state to be converted to charters, but Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, has not yet signed or vetoed it. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools blasted the Mississippi legislation for being so restrictive and called it a "new low" in charter school law.

For a good analysis of how important a state's charter school scores were in Race to the Top judging, look at Nelson Smith's post over at the Alliance's blog.

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