With the application process underway for tornado-impacted districts to request aid from the West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) fund, leadership from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) met with local superintendents on Feb. 23 to encourage districts to submit applications as soon as possible.
Through House Bill 5, the state legislature provided $200 million to support districts, local governments and other agencies affected by the December 2021 storms and tornadoes. The bill appropriated $30 million to local school districts, and earlier this month, KDE created a simple application for districts to submit their needs under the permissible uses of the funds. The money may provide wraparound services, such as tutoring and mental health supports for students and families, and assistance with additional transportation costs. In addition, KDE can transfer a portion of the $30 million to the state School Facilities Construction Commission to help repair damaged school buildings.
Districts can access the application on the KDE’s State Grants webpage.
So far, the department has received one application. Once more are received, staff will determine whether KDE will need to ask the Kentucky General Assembly to add more money to its portion of the SAFE fund.
Superintendents on the call were asked to project lost property value, based on conversations they have with their local Property Valuation Administrators. KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney said the department will use these figures to ensure legislators understand the financial impact each local district is facing.
“The more applications we receive, the better,” Kinney said. “You don’t need to be exact. The application is just trying to inform us of what you think those reimbursements might represent and to help inform us if the $30 million is enough.”
Department staff will help districts if they see an influx of expenses related to the tornadoes or need to add to the application after they submit it, Kinney added.
“If there’s anything we can do to help with your applications, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us,” she said.
Brian Perry, KDE’s director of government relations, provided the superintendents on the call with a brief update on a bill the department is tracking.
State Rep. Myron Dossett has introduced HB 397, a bill that waives up to 15 student attendance days for districts that closed due to the December 2021 tornadoes. The waived days also would count as contract days for school personnel.
The bill will head to the senate after it was unanimously passed out of the house last week.
Another primary concern for impacted districts has been how the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding formula will look in the years to come.
The SEEK program is a formula-driven allocation of state-provided funds to local school districts for costs, including transportation and help for low-income and special needs students.
During a special session last year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, which allows districts to use previous attendance data from either the 2018-2019 or the 2019-2020 school years to calculate the average daily attendance that will be used in calculating SEEK funds and any other state funding based in whole or in part on average daily attendance for the district for the 2021-2022 school year. The allowance was made because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the attendance data for the SEEK formula may be frozen for the 2021-2022 school year due to the pandemic, district leaders have called for that freeze to be extended for up to five more years to address funding concerns related to the impact of the tornadoes.
Based on discussions Perry has had, he said he anticipates some form of a continued freeze on SEEK to be included in the final budget.
Wrapping up Wednesday’s meeting, Mayfield Independent Superintendent Joe Henderson asked KDE staff on the call about what tornado-impacted districts should expect regarding state assessments for the 2021-2022 school year.
Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass said KDE had informal discussions with the U.S. Department of Education about any flexibilities that could be provided to districts surrounding assessments and accountability.
“I think you should prepare to give assessments to your kids this year,” Glass said.
Leadership from KDE and local superintendents of tornado-impacted districts will meet again in two weeks.