Ky. Education officials welcome flood relief program, but say they’ll need more help – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

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National education officials welcome tens of millions of dollars in relief lawmakers agreed for flood-affected schools. But more help is likely to be needed, education officials say, especially with regulations around the number of school days required.

“Some of the numbers and tallies here aren’t as generous as we had hoped,” Robin Kinney of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) said in a Thursday web call with superintendents of affected districts. the catastrophe. Kinney oversees KDE’s finances and operations.

“But I think a lot of the things we’ve been advocating for are included in The law project,” she says.

The general assembly convened on Wednesday for a special three-day legislative session on flood relief.

KDE lobbyist Brian Perry said he expects lawmakers to grant more relief when they return to Frankfurt in January.

“They were pretty clear yesterday that this is the first bite of apple and they intend to do more probably later in the year. [2023] session,” Perry said.

Lawmakers have proposed letting school districts off the hook for 15 of their mandatory instructional days. Letcher County Public Schools Superintendent Denise Yonts said her district likely needs more.

“What worries me is winter,” Yonts said. “You know we have a late start time. I don’t know yet when we can start, and then I don’t know how many snow days we will have.

School is suspended indefinitely in Yonts district, where flooding has severely damaged three schools. Yonts struggles to find an educational space while repairs continue.

“I feel like every time I have a plan, a piece of the puzzle pops up,” she said. Yonts had planned to place students from flooded elementary schools in a middle school. But the college’s sewage system is so damaged that it’s no longer an option. This forces Yonts to push back the start date again.

Other districts have had to push back the school year by more than a month.

At the same time, an expected increase in COVID-19 cases in the fall could lead to more school closures.

Funding

On Wednesday, lawmakers announced a $213 million flood relief package for the state. This includes $40 million that the Kentucky Department of Education will use specifically for flood-affected school districts. Districts can also apply to tap into a pool of $115 million allocated to the Division of Emergency Management. But they will compete for funding with other agencies, such as utilities.

“KDE very much supports and appreciates what the Legislature has considered delivering during this special session,” KDE spokesperson Toni Tatman wrote in an emailed statement. “We believe that even more support will be needed in the next interim session.”

Gov. Andy Beshear previously estimated that repairs to Eastern Kentucky schools would top $100 million.

Speaking to WFPL News at the state fair on Thursday, Senate Education Committee Chairman Max Wise said lawmakers hoped the federal government would pick up much of the tab.

“We’re waiting to see…making sure we know exactly what they can afford and what they can’t,” he said.

FEMA or private insurers will cover a portion of district repair costs. But this funding does not always cover all the costs incurred by the districts.

Additionally, insurance payments and federal assistance are often sent as reimbursements, which means districts must find the money up front to fund repairs.

In a nod to cash flow issues, lawmakers wrote a provision in the relief package saying districts can use a portion of the $40 million to cover initial flood repair costs.

The provision also allows districts in eastern Kentucky to grant emergency leave to employees who must take time off work to deal with the effects of flooding on their own lives.

More relief for Western Kentucky

Neighborhoods affected by the tornado across the state will also benefit from the relief program.

The bill ensures that districts affected by tornadoes do not see large drops in local property tax revenue. A powerful tornado outbreak in December destroyed many properties in western Kentucky, dramatically reducing the amount of taxable property.

The bill proposes that the state cover the difference in local property tax revenue at 100% in 2023, 66% in 2024, and 33% in 2025.

State officials said eastern Kentucky districts could see similar relief in upcoming legislative sessions.

Lawmakers also included a provision that mitigates the impact of student absences on state funding for school districts in eastern and western Kentucky. State funding for districts is tied to enrollment and attendance, and leaders fear both will decline as families move or face more barriers to attending school.

Dawson Springs Independent Schools Superintendent Leonard Whalen said attendance rates in his district were “appalling” due to the impact of December’s tornadoes and the ongoing pandemic.

Statewide at schools in Floyd County, Superintendent Anna Shepherd said attendance was also down in her district. Even though her eastern Kentucky district was able to start school, many students are not showing up because they are dealing with the effects of flooding on their homes and families, she said.

Lawmakers plan to pass the measure on Friday, hoping the governor will sign off by Friday evening.

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