Friday, June 4, 2010

Build School Calendars Around Access to Instruction

During the regular session of the 2010 General Assembly, the school calendar issue was once again a major item for discussion. Due to the H1N1 virus, snow days, flood days and many other “disaster” impacts, superintendents were once again faced with difficult decisions about canceling school and scheduling makeup days.

As Commissioner of Education, my primary focus is making certain our students have access to instruction that will ensure their success and their future. For that reason, I was very opposed to waiving instructional days/hours. However, having served as a local superintendent, I also know how difficult the development of a school calendar can be and how difficult it is to schedule makeup days.

Through this blog, I am re-emphasizing the request to get suggestions and proposals from local school districts concerning makeup days and school calendars. I have announced in several venues that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) would promote possible pilots to provide virtual learning opportunities for makeup days. There are many problems to overcome with these pilots, and legislation possibly may be needed, so this will not be a “quick” process. The 2010 General Assembly also charged the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) with developing regulatory language to guide innovative alternative school calendars. We will provide more information on this issue after the June KBE meeting.

The budget bill contains minimal requirements for school calendars. The bill’s language says that the school term shall include, at a minimum, the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days, which is 1,062 instructional hours. But, it is very clear that the intent of the legislature, supported by KDE, is that school districts should include 177 six-hour instructional days in their original 2010-11 calendars.

To further stress the emphasis on instructional days, the budget bill requires KDE to report to the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) the test scores for any district with less than 177 six-hour instructional days. Although there is great flexibility provided in the language, KRS 158.070 defines the minimum school term as 185 days, and that will easily accommodate 177 instructional days and the required minimum of four professional development days. Opening Day, Closing Day and holidays are discretionary, and the school term may be extended beyond 185 days if needed should a district choose to include them.

As commissioner, I believe the intent of the budget was clear. Districts should maintain 177 days of instruction and NOT reduce teacher pay. In the final budget, the SEEK amounts for FY11 ($3,868 per pupil) and FY12 ($3,903 per pupil) were actually increased from the FY10 amount of $3,866 per pupil.

We hope districts will be able to meet the intent of the budget; however, we do recognize that each district has unique circumstances, and KDE will approve school calendars that meet the requirements of statute and budget language (the equivalent of 177 days).

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