If ever there was an example of dysfunction, the Kentucky Legislature's attempt at providing relief to academic calendars shredded by snow days this year is it.
Monday House and Senate negotiators announced they had deadlocked on reconciling competing bills and ended discussions. Quickly feeling the heat, negotiators revisited the issue Tuesday and announced Wednesday evening they had agreed to a "solution."
That solution? Legislators say they will suspend the requirement that schools have 170 days of instruction as long as schools have the legally required 1,062 hours of instruction. And if, after exhausting all options including canceling spring break and other holidays schools cannot reach the 1,062-hour threshold by June 6, they may end school on that day. The Associated Press reports fewer than 10 school districts will fall in that category.
That's relief? What it really is is absurd.
As we noted previously on this page, roughly half of the state's 173 school districts have missed 20 or more days due to snow and ice during the extraordinary winter just past. All of the districts in far western Kentucky have missed more than 10 days. There is a system under present law that would allow districts that missed more than 20 days to apply to the education commissioner to shorten the school year by up to 10 days, but it is a cumbersome process and relief is discretionary.
The Democrat-led House passed a bill earlier this month that granted broader, simpler one-time relief. It placed discretion for reducing instructional days at the level of local school boards. We have previously registered our opinion that this made sense. The House bill would allow any district that missed more than 10 days to drop up to 10 days without having to get that decision blessed by the commissioner. Most districts are actively trying to make up lost instruction time by extending schools days and dropping holidays. We don't think it is likely that any district that missed, say, 11 days, would opt to drop 10 under the bill, but some might drop two or three. In the context of this winter, we don't have a problem with that. It's a one-off event, and schools, teachers and families are all up against it.
We noted in an earlier editorial that the Jefferson County school district was holding back on setting graduation dates for 24 high schools while waiting for the legislators to act. We also noted that teachers planning to take summer courses to advance their qualifications were being put in a bind. And as for attendance extending into June, the many Kentucky families that wrap annual vacations around the Memorial Day weekend aren't likely to cancel their reservations just because the Legislature couldn't get its act together.
We place blame for the mess on the GOP-led Senate, which after a lot of pious talk about not "lowering standards" adopted its own bill requiring a complicated process of making districts approve revised calendars and submit them for state approval, which might or might not be granted. We've previously noted our astonishment that such bureaucratic obstructionism could be the work of Republicans, who supposedly stand for precisely the opposite. But they refused to relent in the negotiations, to what end we can't imagine.
Simply put, Senate Republicans are on the wrong side of this issue. They should have let it go rather than stoke enmity from school parents, teachers and other voters who have grown weary of such ineptitude. In politics, you have to pick what hill you're going to die on, and the GOP picked a bad one here.