School Choice & Charters

Kentucky ‘Districts of Innovation’ Will Allow Greater Flexibility

By Kimberly Shannon — October 29, 2012 2 min read
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A new Kentucky initiative was previewed on Friday that will allow some districts to gain flexibility from certain laws and regulations regarding curriculum, instruction, structure, scheduling, and funding. The initiative is an effort to increase innovation efforts in education.

These “Districts of Innovation” will operate much like charters, said State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, according to a story by WHAS 11. The state does not currently allow charter schools.

The initiative was developed under House Bill 37, and was modeled partly on charter laws in other states. It will be funded in part by a recently developed nonprofit educational “venture capital” fund for innovation, The Courier-Journal reports.

While certain rules for the initiative are still being worked out, education officials have said that the plan will require participating districts to commit to improving student performance. The changes are not expected to take place until the 2013-14 school year.

Applications must outline districts’ plans, budgets, and measurable academic goals under the new allowances and must explain how districts will reward schools for risk-taking. Designations will be granted for five years, and can be revoked by state education officials, who will be monitoring the progress of the districts throughout.

Some regulations will not be waived, including health, safety, civil rights, disability rights, attendance, academic standards, graduation standards, and compliance with open records and meetings, according to the Associated Press.

Districts are not required to include all of their schools in their applications; in fact, each school must obtain approval from 70 percent of its teachers before being added to an application. About five to 10 districts will receive approval and become “Districts of Innovation,” said Cook, director of innovation at the Kentucky Department of Education, according to the Associated Press.

The state is hoping to learn from the changes that participating districts make, and, if the schools show significant gains, implement those changes statewide. “It will lead to programs and projects that are ... comprehensive, not just ‘one-hit wonders,’” said Holliday in an earlier report.

Cook presented some examples of what these waivers could lead to, including school days with multiple shifts, altered annual school calendars, greater accessibility of internships and learning outside the classroom, and more freedom from pay schedules for teachers. Schools might require changes to the state’s funding formula to account for out-of-school learning or students who finish classes early, according to The Courier-Journal.

While Holliday and Cook both say that the Districts of Innovation will operate much like charter schools, many proponents of charter schools say they will not be satisfied until the state approves charters, reports The Courier-Journal. Other concerns include fears that teachers will not want to work extended days, or to alter collective-bargaining agreements.

Gary Houchens, an education professor at Western Kentucky University, wrote in an editorial that while the initiative is a step forward, it is lacking the element of school choice that charter schools would provide, and that public schools already have more room for reform than people think.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.