Senate panel approves new version of bill letting some districts eliminate up to 10 days of school

lblackford@herald-leader.comMarch 13, 2014 

Two snowplows cleared snow from a street. in March.

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FRANKFORT — The Senate Education Committee quickly approved a bill Thursday that would let school districts eliminate as many as 10 instructional days because of bad weather, although the latest version puts more conditions on schools and might not help as many as planned.

Under the committee substitute for House Bill 211, each school district must apply to the Kentucky Department of Education for a waiver after having missed 10 days due to weather and having used up other scheduled makeup days. The bill says the Education Department "shall" grant the waivers.

However, it's not clear how many districts the latest version of the bill would help.

Under current regulations, school districts can apply for a waiver from the state department after they have missed 20 days of school. Those regulations also require districts to build make-up days into their calendars. The number of those make-up days is based on an average of how much school was missed the three previous years.

The new bill requires them to use all of those make-up days before they can apply for the waiver. Some districts have built 20 make-up days into their calendars, which means the latest bill would apply only to those districts if they have missed 30 or more days of school.

In Fayette County, which has missed 13 days, the official school calendar includes make-up days that stretch through June 13, so the proposed legislation would have no effect.

Fayette County has already held or scheduled 10 make-up days: Feb. 17, March 21, April 25, May 29, May 30 and June 2-6. It has not announced when, or if, the three remaining days would be made up.

"We are waiting to see what the last couple weeks of winter weather bring before making an announcement about make-up days," Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton said. "We will also be interested to see if the General Assembly offers school districts any additional flexibility. We hope to have a recommendation to take the school board on March 24."

Senators from both parties met late into Thursday to discuss further changes to the bill; the Senate Education Committee is scheduled to discuss the matter again Friday morning.

"This is something we're trying to get right and get done quickly," said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester. "These schools need some clarity and some definitiveness because they need to make decisions."

The 10-day waiver section of the bill contains an emergency clause, which means it would become law as soon as the governor signs it.

The bill also says school days that were shortened due to bad weather or another emergency may be counted as full instructional days if the district makes up the lost time by lengthening any remaining school days.

At least two Central Kentucky districts, Scott County and Woodford County, have already decided to add minutes to school days to make up some of the lost time. Others have canceled spring break.

According to the Education Department, several districts in Eastern Kentucky, including Jackson, Leslie and Wolfe counties, had as of last week missed school more than 30 days.

Although some school districts have extended the school year into the first week of June, many officials have said they're reluctant to have students attend school further into summer.

Under state law, schools are required to have 170 instructional days with 1,062 hours of instructional time.

State officials have said that waiving the 10 days will not affect the state's main funding formula for schools, which is based on daily attendance.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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