Friday, March 21, 2014

School make-up days

Finding an equitable solution to balance instruction, family vacations

During 2009-10, my first school year as commissioner of education in Kentucky, we faced an especially harsh winter due to ice and snow.  Many school districts missed in excess of 30 instructional days. Through budget language that year, the General Assembly provided some relief to districts on making up time missed.

In the subsequent school years of 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13, we saw relatively mild winters and districts were able to easily meet calendar requirements.

The 2013-14 winter has been very severe once again and as of today, districts have missed on average about 16 instructional days; however, a large number of districts have missed more than 20 days of school and a few more than 30. Currently, the General Assembly is negotiating between the House and Senate to find a path forward to help school districts.

Since my first winter in Kentucky in 2009-10 and through today, as commissioner, I have been consistent in my approach to handling calendar challenges due to inclement weather. My guiding principle is that students and teachers deserve an adequate amount of instructional time and the public expects students to receive and adequate amount of instruction time. An adequate amount of instruction time is defined in legislation as 1,062 hours. To allow some school districts to go below the minimum would do a disservice to students, teachers, and the tax-paying public. As a matter of record, each school day costs taxpayers about $17 million. To completely waive 10 days would seem to be a waste of $170 million. However, by requiring all districts to meet the 1,062 hours, we would have a system that ensures taxpayer funds are providing an equal opportunity to all children.

Here are a few examples that show the majority of districts would have more flexibility on the last day of school with the 1,062 hour provision rather than the 10-day waiver.

Days Missed
End-of-Year with 1,062 hours
End-of-Year with
10-day waiver
Instructional hours under
10-day waiver
Floyd Co.
Clay Co.
Logan Co.
Boone Co.
Morgan Co.

While I understand that parents and teachers make plans for spring break and summer vacation, I continue to focus on the critical need for adequate instructional time. Of course, there should be some consideration of context. No one expects a school to continue operation beyond mid to late June, so we must have flexibility to add time to school days so that most districts are able to meet the 1,062 hour requirement.

My concern with giving a blanket waiver of 10 days is inequity. A school district that has missed 34 days would have to make up 24 days. A school district that has missed 11 days would only have to make up only one day. However, by focusing on the minimum instructional time of 1,062 hours, all school districts would be treated equally and all students would be treated equally. The majority of school districts would have more flexibility with the 1,062 hour requirement than a 10-day waiver.

As commissioner, I will implement the legislation that is agreed upon by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. While we may have some disagreement on which method of flexibility is best for school districts (waiver of 10 days or 1,062 hour requirement), one thing we all agree on is that the decision needs to be made as soon as possible so school districts can set graduation dates and inform parents of make-up days or extended school hours.

Hopefully the conference committee will make some decisions in the next few days so we can inform school districts. The Kentucky Department of Education will provide a simple and fast system to implement whichever method the General Assembly enacts.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for sharing this information. any reflection on how schools with longer than 6 hour days can be impacted by these snow days. in my children's district (Hopkins) we have 385 minutes of instructional time, per the calendar available on the state's webstie, which means our kids meet the 1,062 minutes in 165 days of school. they are scheduled to be in school for 175 days, according to the board of ed's calendar. is our county required to make up snow days once they have met the 1,062 requirement? i was told by a very helpful woman in the office of the secretary that schools must at least be in session for 170 days. again, thanks for addressing this topic.