An effort by lawmakers to allow local school boards some flexibility in setting their school calendars received overwhelming support from House members earlier this week, with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 108 to 6.
House Bill 375 allows a school board to schedule its school opening date to coincide with the opening date of an area community college, as long as public schools don’t open prior to August 15th.
Currently, a school calendar must begin no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26th, and the closing date for students must be no later than the Friday closest to June 11th. This calendar grew largely out of a now-outdated concern for the seasonal needs of farming.
HB375 allows a school year to make the shift to an earlier timeframe — that is, beginning earlier and ending earlier while preserving the same number of school days — and focus on academic rather than economic priorities in our post-agrarian society.
It also would allow students bound for community college to begin courses immediately upon graduation rather than having to delay their advancement until the following semester.
The bill comes as a response to requests from school districts, who asked for a change their calendars so that students can complete semester exams before the winter break. Without the change, students have to wait through the Christmas season before taking final exams to graduate.
In prior legislative session, more than 60 bills have been introduced offering calendar flexibility to individual counties. House Bill 375 takes a statewide approach to solving this problem.
Some opposition from tourism and business interests was noted by members during debate on the bill. A change to school calendars, they said, can have a disruptive effect on summer employment, seasonal economic activity, and coordination of vacation times.
In opposition, Representative Pat McElraft commented, “We have students working in campgrounds. We have students working in the restaurant industry.” McElraft argued that students could have difficulty landing critical seasonal jobs if they were unable to work commit to the entire summer. Tourism spending, job creation and tax revenue, she said, made it worthwhile to preserve the ‘status quo.’
But Representative Linda Johnson, in her remarks on the House floor, reassured critics that the bill does not mandate any change to any school calendar. “This is an option,” said Johnson. “It gives the school system a tool to use. It does not tell them to use it.”
This bill awaits consideration in the Senate and, if it is passed into law, would apply to the school year 2017-2018.