Lawmakers weigh education options amid COVID-19 surge

Keeping students learning in their classrooms should be the overarching goal of any education policies responding to disruptions caused by COVID-19, a key lawmaker said Wednesday.

With more Kentucky school districts pausing in-person learning as the highly contagious delta variant spreads, a legislative panel reviewed options to give local school administrators more latitude in responding to staffing shortages and virus outbreaks.

The hearing came on the same day the Bluegrass State reported nearly 5,000 new coronavirus cases — one of its highest totals of the pandemic — and 12 more virus-related deaths.

The Republican-dominated legislature is preparing for an anticipated special legislative session following a landmark court decision that put lawmakers in charge of setting pandemic policies.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who holds sole authority for calling such a session, says it needs to happen soon but wants to see a “general consensus” on the path forward before making that call.

Republican Sen. Max Wise said Wednesday that the goal for any pandemic-related education measure should be to keep schools open — while maintaining the safety of students and staff — and to entrust local school boards and superintendents with making decisions that best fit their districts.

As Senate Education Committee chairman, Wise will play a key role in shaping any such measure for a special session. Schools shifted to virtual learning for much of the prior academic year, but Wise said there’s a consensus to avoid that in the current year.

“I’ve not talked to a single educator or superintendent that the goal has not been, let’s do whatever it takes to keep us in-person in the school buildings,” Wise said during the committee hearing.

Wise, who is considering a run for governor in 2023, also stressed his preference for policies that favor local decision-making over a blanket statewide approach for schools.

“We know that a one-size-fits-all approach has not worked well,” he said.

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