By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
School superintendents, teachers, parents and students in many parts of the state are unable to plan spring breaks, graduation ceremonies and summer vacations because schools are going to have to make up days lost to winter weather.
They just don’t know how or how many. And they’re going to have to wait at least another day or so to find out from the legislature.
The state Senate Monday passed a bill crafted by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, and officials at the Kentucky Department of Education, which attempts to strike a balance between the need to help some districts have missed more than 30 days of instruction and the desire to ensure students aren’t short-changed on learning.
The bill would require districts to submit an amended school calendar to KDE that shows how the district plans to provide the statutorily required 1,062 hours of instruction during the 2013-14 school year and do so without extending the school day beyond seven hours.
If districts have utilized all days built into its original calendar for bad weather and used up all other available options, they can appeal to Dr. Terry Holliday, the state Commissioner of Education, for relief.
Kay Kennedy, director of District Support for KDE, told the Senate Education Committee that Holliday will work with districts on a case-by-case basis and “could waive the 1,062 hour requirement.”
Districts are supposed to build days into their school calendars for bad weather based on the highest number of missed days in any of the past three years. But it’s been an unusually severe winter and some districts have missed up to 34 days.
Because many families have made travel and housing arrangements for spring and early summer vacations, districts are reluctant to use spring break days or to extend the calendar too far into June. Some lawmakers have also been concerned that extending school after the two-week, accountability testing window at the end of the year will produce little educational benefit.
But Kennedy reminded the committee those two weeks fall at the end of the school year for that very reason and, if the calendar is extended, the testing window will also be moved to the amended calendar’s final two weeks.
Last Friday, the House passed a simpler bill which allows local superintendents whose districts have missed more than 10 days to waive up to that number. But Givens and other Republican senators fear that’s not fair to other districts which have already made up many days and might cost students instructional time.
So the two chambers will have to work out differences between the two bills quickly if they are to end the uncertainty for local districts. And by the time the Senate passed Givens’ bill 38-0 Monday, the House had already adjourned.
But Stumbo earlier told reporters he thought the Senate bill is “over-complicated. I don’t know why you would want to make it more difficult.. I’d rather give the superintendents the option.”
Wilson Sears, director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said the organization has not taken a position supporting one or the other of the two measures.
“We recognize there are differences in every district and we understand that this is a very difficult situation (for lawmakers) to deal with,” Sears said Monday. “But it’s been an extreme winter and districts need some sort of relief.”
Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, also announced he and House Education Committee Chair Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, will chair an interim education subcommittee which will study Kentucky’s formula for funding elementary and secondary education.
The Support Educational Excellence in Kentucky or SEEK formula is complicated, factoring a district’s ability to raise funding from local property taxes, enrollment, transportation needs and average daily attendance or ADA.
The formula was developed as part of the 1990 Kentucky Reform Act to “equalize” funding between property rich and property poor districts in order to comply with the Kentucky Constitution’s requirement of equal and “adequate” funding for its “common schools.”
Wilson said the subcommittee will issue a report on the funding formula by December of this year.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.