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Bills aimed at helping schools with excessive snow days introduced

March 10, 2003
By: Heather J. Carlson
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 554, SB 642, SB 676

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri school districts faced with having to make up dozens of snow days would get some relief under plans being pushed by several lawmakers.

Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate that would exempt districts with excessive weather-related and flu cancellations from having to make up those days. Districts that have had to close school this year for more than seven days would be eligible for the exemption.

Missouri's formula for allocating state funds to schools requires a minimum number of school days for a district to get its full entitlement. The various bills in the legislature would provide exemptions to that requirement for the current school year only.

Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, said he sponsored one of the bills because several schools in his district have been hard hit by wintry weather.

"I know in southeast Missouri if we don't introduce some legislation to give them some relief, they may not get out until the Fourth of July," Foster said.

He added that some schools have already racked up 16 snow days.

Similar legislation was passed in 2001.

While some bills limit the exemption to bad weather, a St. Louis area lawmaker has proposed another excuse for closing school this year -- flu outbreaks.

Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis, has introduced legislation that would exempt districts from having to make up excessive school cancellations related to either bad weather or a flu outbreak. Schools that have been forced to close either due to poor weather or the flu more than seven times this year would be eligible for the exemption.

Kennedy said any legislation passed by lawmakers to help districts with cancellations should include a provision for flu closures.

"We might as well factor in that sometimes there's a flu epidemic and put it in the legislation and be a little bit ahead of the curve," he said.

Education Department Spokesman Jim Morris said several districts have struggled with both snow- and flu-related closures. However, the department does not yet have any statewide statistics about school closings for the 2002-03 school year.

Foster said he would support Kennedy's proposal but chose not to include flu closures in his bill because it would be slightly more controversial.

He said, "I don't want to totally jeopardize losing the bill."