Kentucky Ed. Dept. Proposes Innovation Foundation

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The Kentucky Department of Education proposed last week that the state create a foundation specifically to fund innovative public school projects to help students achieve.

The department floated the proposal at a two-day meeting of the state board of education. Board members told education department staff members the proposal was worth pursuing, said department spokeswoman Lisa Gross.

"With local, state, and federal funding streams all being affected by budget cuts and lower tax revenues, it is imperative that we ensure we are taking advantage of all possible funding sources in order to provide the best learning environment in our schools," Kevin Brown, an associate commissioner of education, wrote in a staff memo presented to the board and posted on the state education department's website.

A similar group, the Kentucky Educational Foundation, was formed in 1984 and dissolved in 1993, state records show. It is unclear from documents filed with the secretary of state's office whether the foundation ever raised or distributed any money.

Several foundations in the state gather and give out money for education, but no philanthropic group is aimed solely at promoting innovation, said Stu Silberman, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

"Having a focus just on innovation, I think, is a good thing for Kentucky," Mr. Silberman said. "I'm a really big believer in providing the right kind of niche for students; ... in that type of environment they become totally engaged and they really excel. So the more of that we can do, the better."

The Prichard Committee is an independent nonprofit agency that works to improve education in the state from preschool through college.

Ms. Gross said state Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday came up with the idea. The agency spokeswoman said such a foundation would support his goal of finding additional revenue for Kentucky's public schools.

The department is modeling the proposed foundation on the Colorado Legacy Foundation, which started in 2007 to "identify promising ideas, invest in those innovative ideas, evaluate results, and share successful promising practices with all Colorado school districts and schools," according to the foundation's Facebook page.

In just one example of its work, the Colorado foundation last month announced it had won a $10.5 million grant to encourage enrollment in Advanced Placement classes in an effort to improve student performance among traditionally underserved high school students.

Ms. Gross said the best current example of innovation in Kentucky schools is a similar program called AdvanceKentucky. The nonprofit group Kentucky Science & Technology Corp. is incorporating the program in 64 state high schools this academic year.

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Responding to Cuts

Ms. Gross said the foundation proposal is an indirect response to budget cuts, "since innovation often requires funds not available in current budgets or cannot be supported by current revenue streams."

She said the education department isn't making any predictions on how much funding such a foundation could provide, but Ms. Gross said in an email that department officials hoped it would be significant.

Mr. Silberman said he envisioned the foundation as a seed-money provider for expensive programs.

"I think with the really strong emphasis on innovation, I think there will be some renewed interest in supporting that," he said.

In a related development, state Rep. Carl Rollins, a Democrat and the chairman of the House education committee, filed a bill proposing what he calls "districts of innovation" that would allow school districts to ignore some state regulations to try new approaches, similar to charter schools. The bill was favorably received by the Kentucky House of Representatives Education Committee during a reading last week.

Vol. 31, Issue 20, Pages 10-11

Published in Print: February 8, 2012, as Innovation Foundation Proposed for Kentucky
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