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Ky. Gov. Willing to Discuss Charter Schools

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Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday he's open to reviving charter schools legislation as he mulls whether to expand the agenda of a special legislative session made necessary by the failure of lawmakers to pass a new state budget.

On a day that he met privately with some top state education officials, Beshear told reporters that allowing charter schools in Kentucky would "help us tremendously" in the state's pursuit of federal education grants in the "Race to the Top" competition.

"I'm open on the topic of charter schools," Beshear said. "And I'm willing to have some conversations to see if there may be some way to come to some agreement on that issue."

Beshear said charter schools have worked in some places around the country and failed elsewhere. Still, he said that the concept "could be a tool, if utilized properly, that would benefit some of our school districts."

Later, state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday bluntly said he was not optimistic about Kentucky's chances of landing a "Race to the Top" award in the next round of funding without a boost from legislation to create charter schools.

In the legislative session that ended last week, the Senate narrowly passed a bill to give local school boards the option of creating charter schools, which are allowed to operate outside some regulations in an effort to boost student performance. The measure died in the House.

The Kentucky Education Association opposed that bill, but said it would work with lawmakers and the governor on the issue to seek another form that could be more acceptable to the group, said KEA president Sharron Oxendine.

"I don't think we'll ever be in love with the idea of charter schools, but we might be able to tolerate it," Oxendine said in an interview Tuesday.

Oxendine said the KEA's biggest issues leading up to the special legislative session remain funding for public schools and health insurance for school employees.

Beshear has said he'll call state lawmakers back to the Capitol later this spring to have them finish the task of passing a state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The House and Senate were unable to break a logjam on the spending plan.

The special session will cost taxpayers about $64,000 a day.

Besides charter schools, Beshear listed two other issues that he was looking at in deciding whether to expand the special session's agenda — a proposed fix for the state's beleaguered Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and a proposal to raise Kentucky's minimum school dropout age. Both measures stalled in the Senate during the recently ended session.

"Those are things that are possible in terms of putting into a special session," Beshear said. "But the main thing I want to do is pass a budget. And we'll look at the other things and make decisions down the road."

Beshear said he wants the special session to be "as short as possible" because Kentuckians "feel like they've already paid for this once."

The governor said he hoped to meet soon with House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams to try to help end the budget deadlock.

State government faces the prospect of a partial shutdown if lawmakers aren't able to reach a budget deal by the start of the next fiscal year.

Beshear warned that Kentucky still faces the prospect of a "horrible budget" because lawmakers were unwilling to agree on new recurring revenue.

Beshear's budget proposal in January featured a new revenue source, assuming about $780 million in new money from an expansion of gambling in Kentucky. However, lawmakers showed no willingness to allow video slot machines at race tracks.

"So we need to come together and make it as good a budget as we can under the circumstances," Beshear said.

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