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June 2012
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RATIONAL Bill granting schools leeway on days lost to snow sensible

For kids who don't like school this has been a great winter. But for school boards and administrators, some of whom are looking at extending classes well into June, it has become a major headache.

As evidence that government can at times be helpful, there is a bill making its way through the Legislature that would allow school districts to waive up to 10 days missed for bad weather in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Under current law Kentucky's education commissioner has discretion to forgive up to 10 "disaster days" if a school district has missed more than 20 days. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that close to half of the state's 173 school districts already are eligible for relief by that measure.

However, the bill that seems to have the most momentum in the Legislature at present (there are actually several snow day relief bills floating around) is House Bill 410. And it goes a bit farther than current law.

House Bill 410 would allow any school district that has missed at least 10 days to request a waiver allowing it to drop up to 10 days this academic year from the normally required 170 instruction days. It also would make approval of such requests by the education commissioner automatic rather than discretionary.

The 10-missed-days threshold brings all of the Purchase Area's public school districts into play for potential relief. All but a handful had already missed 10 days by the end of February and the March 2 snow and ice event that substantially shut down this end of the state last week took care of the rest.

The legislation is not without critics. House Education Chairman Derrick Graham, a Democrat from Frankfort, expressed concern that the bill lacks accountability measures for districts seeking waivers. Others voiced concern about the impact of the lost days on the overall quality of education students will receive this year.

But supporters such as Republican Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge counter that trying to hold students' attention into what are normally the summer vacation days of June might itself be a lost cause in terms of how much students will learn.

House Bill 410 was unopposed in being reported out of Graham's committee Tuesday (one member of the panel abstained), which suggests its chances of approval are good, at least in the House. It appears to have the support of Speaker Greg Stumbo, and there is pressure to act. The Jefferson County School District has postponed setting graduation schedules for its 24 high schools until the matter is resolved and other districts around the state are likewise in a holding pattern.

While we don't dismiss lost instructional days lightly, we think in the context of this extraordinarily bad winter, waiving the 170-day requirement is a rational step. Ultimately the local districts will make the decisions for how many days they drop, and that is as it should be given the widely varying circumstances across the state.

As for kids who don't like school, well, this is just their year. Having lived in these parts for a while however, we think we can safely admonish such students not to expect a repeat anytime soon. This has been a once-in-a-generation winter.

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