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Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Published: 1/28/2014

EDITORIAL

No school snow job

When winter ends — and it will — Ohio school districts still must give their students a full year of classes

This winter’s brutal weather is disrupting public school schedules and budgets across Ohio, forcing districts repeatedly to cancel classes to keep students safe. But the snow and cold, however extreme, should not give any district an excuse to fail to conduct a full school year once the weather improves.

And instead of looking to offer districts such an out, Gov. John Kasich’s administration and the General Assembly should be preparing to offer them financial help to ensure that young people are not cheated of necessary instruction.

State law allows districts five annual “calamity days” to shorten their school years for weather-related reasons without losing state aid; about a third of Ohio districts already have reached that limit this year. Districts are required to provide at least 175 days of instruction each year.

At Mr. Kasich’s urging, the legislature voted in 2011 to increase the number of annual calamity days from three to five. This week, the governor proposed adding four calamity days this school year. A separate bill sponsored by state Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) would provide three more calamity days.

Mr. Kasich says his plan would “let everyone stay focused on the top priority when weather hits: keeping kids safe.” Of course that’s the immediate imperative, when school-closing policies are appropriate.

But when this winter is over — and it will end, as implausible as that might seem now — the priority will revert to giving Ohio students an adequate education. Shaving even more days from the school year won’t advance that goal.

Ohio’s current school year is already too short to get the job done. A study released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation concludes that 63 percent of Ohio fourth-graders — and 80 percent of lower-income students — do not read at grade level.

Such reading proficiency, or lack of it, is a key predictor of future success in school and at work, the study notes. Ohio has an ostensible “guarantee,” advanced by Mr. Kasich, that third-graders who do not read well enough won’t get promoted.

A separate recent report by the Ohio Board of Regents concludes that 40 percent of Ohio high school graduates who enroll in the state’s public universities and colleges aren’t prepared for college-level math and English courses. How would reducing the school year further, if only temporarily, start to reverse these alarming figures?

Skeptics might suggest that financially strapped districts forced to extend their school years would provide only a charade of additional teaching, by keeping children longer some days or concocting bogus online instruction. You’d hope no school system would be that cynical or unprofessional.

But if state government were to provide emergency aid to help districts conduct a full school year — and it should — it could monitor how that money gets used. State-administered aid to public schools has declined in recent years; Columbus shouldn’t compound that error in the guise of concern for children’s safety.

Many Michigan school districts face even more severe weather challenges than their Ohio counterparts. But in that state, there has been no serious talk of shortening the school year, which includes a minimum of 170 class days and provides for six snow days.

Ohio school districts need to offer a full school calendar this year, however long it takes. State government must help them with adequate financial aid to meet that objective. Anything less would belie Ohio politicians’ oft-stated claims about the elevated value they place on education — something to keep in mind during an election year.



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