Moving Beyond Waivers: Kentucky’s Story

Topics: Education Policy

To help curb the spread of COVID-19 this past spring, governors took unprecedented steps to shut down schools. Seemingly overnight, schools were forced to transition to on-line learning. This forced states to quickly remove policy obstacles schools would face. Every state has implemented temporary measures to ensure schools are funded and students receive credit, but some states are seizing the moment and implementing bold systemic changes that will create lasting change and empower innovation.

Seat-time policies were the most immediate issue that arose from online learning. While seat-time typically refers to the requirement of time-based Carnegie units for the awarding of credit, the reach of time-based policies run deep in state laws, rules and regulations. Although different in every state, seat-time invariably plays a role in how schools are funded. Schools receive state funds based on the amount of time students spend in school, and often the rules specifically define how instruction must be delivered and by whom.

Because the state recognizes that waivers cannot and should not be used in perpetuity, Kentucky is taking a thoughtful approach to address this connection to funding.

A foundation for preparedness and resilience.

In 2011, to address primarily snow days, Kentucky authorized the development of Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) plans which allowed schools to provide online and remote learning. A key component of each district’s NTI application would be defining student participation and identifying the metrics they will use.  The Commissioner of Education can waive up to 10 NTI days to count toward attendance for funding purposes.

How have states such as Kentucky and Arkansas been ensuring continuity of learning plans and flexibility in preparation for disruptions? Take a look.

It’s no surprise that by March, 2020, when COVID-19 forced schools to shutter physical buildings, Kentucky already had an infrastructure in place that could easily adapt to disruptions in seat-time.

Step 1: Finish spring 2020

To prepare for COVID-19’s effects on learning communities, the Kentucky legislature passed emergency legislation SB 177 to support the remainder of the school year. Building on the flexibility of NTI plans, it contained the following provisions:

  • Waived deadlines for NTI plan submission
  • Waived the 10-day limit for NTI plans
  • Changed attendance policy from 170 days to 1,062 hours
  • Authorized the use of SY18-19 attendance data for SY19-20 for funding purposes

These provisions allowed Kentucky’s schools to adjust seat-time to learning time and both learners and educators to be flexible in where and when they teach and learn.

“Kentucky has had a long, albeit scattered, experience with remote learning for almost a decade,” said David Cook, Kentucky Department of Education Division Director. “The COVID closure this spring made us realize that remote learning is now going to be a part of all schools instruction program moving forward.”

Step 2: Preparing for fall 2020.

Anticipating hybrid approaches for the fall, Kentucky’s Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin C. Brown recommended the following in a memo dated June 24, 2020:

  • Continue extension of the of the waiver for NTI plans
  • Allow districts to utilize the same attendance data selected for funding purposes last year can also be used for the 2020-2021 school year

Additionally, Brown stated that he will work with the state board to issue emergency guidelines. The memo also makes clear that compulsory attendance is still required but the department will work with the state board to issue guidance for the reporting of participation, stating, “These recording guidelines will not only assist districts in more uniform recording of remote learning, but it will also provide transparency to communities regarding student participation throughout a variety of instructional delivery models.” Every district in Kentucky uses the same student information system, and it will now provide the functionality to report participation.

Step 3: Systems change for the future.

With the understanding that for the first time all Kentucky districts will be calculating and reporting participation, the state will be able evaluate data that will inform more long-term systemic changes.

For more on systems change, download our systems thinking guidebook to help your state re-think how your policies can work for everyone and prepare for major and minor disruptions.

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Kentucky’s goal is to be able to have statutory recommendations ready for January based on the data collected and lessons learned. This will foster a transition to potentially using participation as the funding metric. Certainly, some will express concerns that participation shows no qualitative or quantitative reflection of instruction, but that idea only resonates for those that believe seat-time was ever a true proxy for learning.

“At the heart of an equitable remote learning system is knowing where every child is and how they are interacting with the instructional delivery,” said Cook. “We knew we needed this ability to ‘see’ every child, regardless of how or where they were interacting with the instructional delivery. We believe the steps taken through executive order and emergency regulation give us that ability.”

See what else your state can do to prepare for disruptions with Restoring Hope and Seizing Opportunity in the Face of Crisis: State Guidance for Building Resilient and Equitable Education Systems.

This article was written by former KnowledgeWorks Senior Advisor of Policy and Advocacy Karla Phillips-Krivickas.