Kentucky state capitol building exterior 6-22-2021 (1).JPG

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky education groups say they need reliable funding and more flexibility in utilizing remote learning and hiring as lawmakers prepare for a special session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the House and Senate education committees heard Wednesday from representatives of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and Kentucky School Boards Association and Green County Schools Superintendent Will Hodges, who discussed his district’s COVID-19 testing program for students potentially exposed to infected people in schools, during a meeting in anticipation of Gov. Andy Beshear calling lawmakers back to Frankfort in special session.

The Kentucky Supreme Court recently ruled that new laws limiting Beshear’s executive authority should go into effect while the governor’s lawsuit challenging their constitutionality move through the courts.

Sen. Max Wise, a Campbellsville Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he hoped lawmakers would focus on finding a “fix for now” during the expected legislative session as schools navigate the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I personally believe that overarching goal and policy should be to continue as much in-person learning education at all possible throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky that is also in a safe manner,” Wise said. “... Remember, we come back in January.”

Some Kentucky school districts have had to briefly close their doors or transition to remote learning in response to COVID-19 cases and quarantines, particularly among staff. Eric Kennedy, director of government relations for KSBA, said 23 of the state’s 171 school districts have closed in some way during the 2021-22 school year.

KASS Executive Director Jim Flynn said some of his members have suggested allowing districts to provide targeted remote learning opportunities in response to COVID-19 cases and quarantines in school buildings and classrooms.

Nontraditional instruction, which is limited to 10 days by law, applies districtwide when used. Districts had unlimited nontraditional instruction dates under an emergency regulation passed by the Kentucky Board of Education last school year, and lawmakers capped extra remote learning days to five starting in late March when they passed school-based COVID-19 relief measures into.

“If we could have a remote learning option that applies to a single school or a portion of a school or even down to a classroom where they could offer remote learning services but then continue for everyone else to offer in-person learning, I think that would be a very welcomed flexibility that would be useful to our superintendents and boards and communities in this situation,” Flynn said.

Allowing districts to implement hybrid instruction schedules, with some learning in-person while others learn from home, could be another option for lawmakers to consider, he said.

Waiving the 170-day requirement for instruction and instead requiring school districts to adhere to the minimum 1,062 hours of learning could also “give them more room to be more innovative” in response to closures prompted by COVID-19, Flynn said.

School districts also need more flexibility in hiring staff and substitutes for schools, such as expediting the process for applicants to take commercial driver’s license tests or provide ways for college students to work as substitute teachers, Flynn and Kennedy said.

“Many districts have told me that they are down to just one sub for a school,” Kennedy said.

School employees are growing exhausted from pandemic-related responsibilities they must now tackle, including contact tracing inside school buildings, he said.

“We cannot afford to lose just a single employee, and we are afraid that some folks are just going to become so exhausted from all of it together that they’re going to start walking away from the work,” Kennedy said.

Schools districts are also looking for clarity in state funding. Flynn suggested allowing districts to use average daily attendance, which determines their funding, from either the 2018-19 or 2019-20 school years to set their allocations, similar to steps taken last year.

KASS has also discussed ways to account for growth in student populations since staffing is based on average daily membership.

“I think we could put our heads together and figure it out,” he said.

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