The bill that would allow school districts affected by last month’s ice storm disaster to waive the make-up of up to 10 missed school days passed its first test but not without some fireworks.
The measure passed the House Education Committee 22-2, although six lawmakers who voted for it, including the panel’s chairman, Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, said changes needed to be made before it hits the House floor.
Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, presented the bill which gives local school boards the option of asking the Department of Education to waive some of their make-up days. But the language of the legislation says the Education Commissioner “shall” approve any request.
It was that bit of legislative semantics that set off an exchange between Cherry and Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond. Moberly said with school districts operating on different school calendars and with some districts being more diligent at trying to make up the days than others, the education commissioner should get final say over whether make-up days should be waived.
“We’re not talking about freedom for school boards, we’re talking about the kids here,” Moberly said. “Just cause you’re in the emergency disaster area doesn’t mean you need the disaster days. It seems to me this is a not well-thought out solution to a complicated problem.”
Cherry said each school board would make the decision about whether the waiver is needed.
After the bill passed, Cherry said he would talk with Department of Education officials about the language and would “strongly consider” changing the word “shall” to a permissive “may,” as Moberly suggested.
Currently, the school districts can ask for a waiver if they miss more than 20 school days for weather or other reasons. The commissioner of education decides whether to approve that waiver.
David Baird, of the Kentucky School Boards Association, said the organization supports the bill as an emergency resort for school districts, such as many in Western Kentucky, that have missed nearly two weeks of school because of last month’s ice storm that knocked out power to a third of the state at one point.
“It would be our position to encourage every single board of education to try to make up days so our children would be in school,” Baird said. “We think that it’s very important for districts to make up.”
Cherry said the underlying concern for local school boards is that they could extend the school year into the hot days of mid-to-late June, which might be considered wasted days.
“There comes a point in the summer when you reach decreasing benefits of keeping kids in school,” Cherry said. “Is a bad school day better than no school day? Probably so. But this is an extraordinary circumstance.”
– Ryan Alessi