The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Opinion

May 9, 2012

Longer school summer break would bring many benefits

The Tuscaloosa News on school year legislation:

In a bygone day, the back-to-school advertising would hit newspapers and television around Aug. 1. These days, back-to-school ads begin about as soon as the previous school year’s final bell rings. That’s how short the summer vacation has become.

Thankfully, the Alabama Legislature has finally decided to do something about that. It recently sent to Gov. Robert Bentley a bill that would limit the K-12 school year to a period beginning two weeks before Labor Day and ending the Friday before Memorial Day. Bentley should sign it.

The Alabama Education Association backs the bill because it believes the longer summer will mean more revenue for the education budget from tourism tax dollars.

The school year traditionally ran between Sept. 1 and May 31. Starting in the 1970s, the school start date started creeping back into August. It reached a point where the school start date was much closer to Aug. 1 than Sept. 1.

Because funding is driven by average daily attendance, school officials want children in class every day and they set attendance policies accordingly. That means that once the school year begins, parents have little control over their children’s lives except on weekends. Even trying to sneak in a long weekend would result in an unexcused absence for students.

Moving the school year effectively eliminated a month of the traditional vacation season. Families who wanted to escape the mid-August heat by taking a trip to the mountains or coast or couldn’t take a vacation earlier were out of luck.

Vacation rental data clearly indicates that tourism season ends when the school year begins. Fall break has never replaced the lost summer tourism time, so the move will increase tourism.

There will be other benefits, as well. Eliminating from the school calendar two of the hottest months of the year can only lower utility bills in the long run, not to mention the students’ comfort.

Educators... say that children retain less from the previous year over a long break. That might be true, although much education research is suspect since it is often carried out with an agenda.

Second, they say parents must now cope with arranging child care for two more months of summer. ...

Families need time together. In the long run, it is the greater freedom and convenience this bill offers families that makes it desirable.

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