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June 2012
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MEDDLERS Since when does GOP lard bills with hurdles?

Republicans have of late been getting attention for their libertarian streak. When it comes to legislation, one would expect that to translate to laws that are simple to understand and simple to comply with.

If that is the measure, Republicans in the Kentucky Senate may have a lot to learn.

Sunday we opined that a bill produced by the Democrat-led House providing school districts discretion - this winter only - to drop up to 10 days from their calendars if they have missed 10 days of school due to weather was sensible. Almost half the state's districts have missed 20 or more days, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Most others have missed well over 10.

We liked the bill because it was simple and allowed local control of the decision as to how many days to drop without having to get state approval. Under existing law, districts that have missed 20 days due to weather can apply to drop up to 10 of them, if the education commissioner grants approval.

This has of course been an extraordinary winter - bad in every district, but far worse in some regions such as the mountain districts of eastern Kentucky. Making up days by expanding the school day, extending the school year, and even having Saturday sessions is being done in various districts to make up some of the lost instruction time. But much like cramming for a final, the mental wear and tear of such efforts on teachers and students eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns.

We liked the simplicity and local control offered by the House approach - make up what instruction you reasonably can, drop a few days if you have to, and recognize that the old rules will again apply next year.

The measure, House Bill 410, easily cleared the House and went over to the Republican-controlled Senate where, inexplicably, it got turned into something resembling Obamacare.

The Associated Press reports that under the Senate version of the bill, school boards in districts wanting relief will be required to develop and submit revised calendars to the state education commissioner. The revisions could include extending school days (not to exceed seven instructional hours a day) and having school on scheduled days off. If after taking those steps the districts are still struggling to meet the legally required 1,062 annual instructional hours, the districts could seek a waiver from the commissioner, which may or may not be granted. The bill now goes back to the House for some attempt at reconciliation, while school districts planning graduations and teachers scheduling their own summer courses are left to wonder.

There was a lot of sanctimonious talk on the Senate side about not lowering education standards or expectations on student assessments and chiding some school districts for closing school at the first hint of bad weather. In a normal year, we would be in agreement with much of that. But come on. This has been an outlier of a winter - extraordinarily disruptive for schools, businesses and everyone else.

Larding up the relief bill with requirements that school boards produce new calendars and letting Frankfort decide who can drop days and how many is bureaucracy enshrined. What ever happened to the Republican concept of local control?

It's another sad case of Senate Republicans acting more like Democrats than the Democrats themselves. They play this game at their peril.

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