Why we need to start school later


This week students and educators across the state will return to school. What makes this year different from the last two years is that they will be going back to school two weeks sooner than before.

In 2012, the Alabama legislature passed a school start date bill that gave schools more flexibility in setting their schedules and allowed summers to last a little longer. We passed this bill for two reasons. First, longer summers help tourism and allow local businesses to make more money as families are traveling. Second, a longer summer break is easier on families and increases school attendance during those critical first weeks back after the break.

It is crazy that we allowed this law to expire before we even took time to study the impact of a later school start date.

Research has shown that starting school earlier does absolutely nothing to improve test scores or help children learn. In fact, all we are doing by starting earlier is shifting around vacation days so that schools can have a fall break and longer holidays.

The reality is that longer summers are better for businesses, families and most importantly, the education of our children.

Families travel during the summer, not during the fall break. So having an extra week or two in the summer means more vacations to the beach and other tourism destinations like walking and riding trails, the Music Hall of Fame in Muscle Shoals, the various Civil Rights sites and museums throughout the state, and many more.

As the state sees an increase in the popularity of youth travel ball, which includes camps and tournaments, cities hosting these camps and tournaments see an economic boost, meaning people are traveling, staying in hotels, eating at local restaurants and shopping at local stores. All of these businesses benefit from a longer summer.

Fall break also has an impact on local businesses. Businesses often hire high school students to work during the summer. But they can’t hire someone to work for just one week during fall break. At the same time, when kids are home for fall break, they are either left home alone or one of their parents has to stay home with them, which means local businesses lose some of their employees during that week. If that parent is an hourly employee, then the family loses their income for those days. The business also suffers from losing an employee for one or more days, which in turn negatively impacts the economy.

Now, let’s consider this from an education perspective. Summertime is a great opportunity for kids to engage in all sorts of beneficial extracurricular activities. Summer camps, family vacations, jobs and internships, all of these opportunities teach our kids valuable lessons and allow them to gain critical experiences or make a little extra money. Kids can’t participate in these activities during fall break or holidays.

Longer holidays and extra breaks interrupt the learning process for kids and forces teachers to have to spend more time reviewing and less time moving forward.

So, what is the benefit of having a fall break or longer holidays?

Let’s not forget, the governor and state leaders recently have come out and said that the state needs more revenue. I agree. But no one wants to raise taxes. The solution to our budget problems is more jobs and more business; when summer is extended, the gulf coast alone generated an additional $86 million in revenue.

Furthermore, starting school earlier costs the taxpayers more money. August and September are among the hottest months of the year. Running the power and having to air condition the schools those extra weeks costs the taxpayers more money but gives us no real benefit in terms of the quality of education we are providing.

Extending summer break is an issue that transcends politics. I was proud to sponsor this legislation in years past. But it took bi-partisan support to actually pass the bill. My friend and colleague, Randy Davis, a Republican from Daphne, sponsored the bill the year it was passed. He and I were able to bring Democrats and Republicans together to find a solution that benefits business, families and our children’s education.

If we want to be serious about improving our economy and improving the quality of education in this state, then we need to start by bringing back the school start date bill and giving our children, families and businesses a longer summer. There’s no reason we can’t make this happen, and I look forward to working with leaders in both parties to make that happen.

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