Proposed school calendar changes stirring up debate across Alabama

Updated: Mar. 11, 2020 at 3:54 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Alabama Daily News) - A bill from Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, would allow local school boards to set their own school calendar as long as the start date is not earlier than the third Monday in August and the school year ends by May 31.

This would result in an 11-week long summer break.

Hurst says House Bill 411 is meant to help provide teenagers with work experience in developing trade skills during the summer and improve Alabama’s overall workforce.

“I want to help the school students have an opportunity to do something better in life when they know they aren’t going on to college and at the same time help workforce development to continue to prosper in Alabama,” Hurst said.

The bill has multiple members of legislative leadership listed as co-sponsors, including the Education House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa.

Poole wouldn’t say he supports the idea of having a longer summer break but does want to talk about it.

“I am supporting the objective of having a methodical, reasoned discussion and review of all issues related to school start dates, the fact that schools are starting earlier and earlier each year, and the policy issues that are involved,” Poole told ADN.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, is another co-sponsor of the bill and supports it because it is a "simple, commonsense measure."

"It brings some much-needed uniformity to school calendars across the state while also providing local systems with complete flexibility to set schedules within the parameters of the bill," McCutcheon said.

"The legislation also allows students to seek summer employment and obtain valuable training and skills that will serve our workforce well in future years."

The Alabama Association of School Boards has come out against the bill saying that it takes away too much local authority from school boards.

“Preserving school-based flexibility to design school calendars is essential to accommodate student learning needs, local education goals and each community's unique preferences,” the association said on its website.

Hurst says they will still have control and his bill just deals with the start and end date.

"The board can set it up however they want to," Hurst said. "All the bill says is that it has to be from May 31 to the third Monday in August."

Schools are required to have at least 180 full instructional days or the hourly equivalent of no less than 1,080 instructional hours, according to the Alabama Department of Education.

Hurst said his bill wouldn't affect private schools or homeschooling requirements.

Rep. AJ McCampbell, D-Demopolis, is another co-sponsor on the bill and says he is interested to see if a change in the school calendar will help with standardized test scores.

"I would like to look and see if this will increase better outcomes to those tests as a result of this bill," McCampbell said. "I want to see if there is a change from taking tests before Christmas break rather than after."

Hurst also said if not more is done to improve Alabama’s workforce then the state could potentially miss out on taxpayer dollars going toward education.

“If businesses won’t expand or come to Alabama because they see our workforce isn’t there, then job growth goes down and that depletes our tax revenue, which then money for education starts going down,” Hurst said. “If we just sit here and don’t do anything to achieve more workforce out there, then Alabama is going to be in a crisis.”

Gov. Kay Ivey has a workforce development initiative with the goal of adding 500,000 new credentialed workers in Alabama by 2025. Hurst said he hopes his bill can contribute to that goal.

Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, is a member of the House Ways and Means Education committee and says he personally thinks school years start too early, but shares the concerns about giving up local control.

"I think the best method for making sure a school calendar fits the needs of a community is stakeholder input," Kiel told ADN. "Parents, teachers and students should communicate with their local administrators. I do not think that I, as a legislator, should tell a school in Troy or Greenville what is appropriate for their kids in south Alabama. I don’t know their community, nor do they know mine."

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, is a former educator and said she supports Hurst's bill, but wants to make sure cities' and counties' special scheduling needs are taken into consideration.

"It’s an excellent idea to extend [summer break] but if you can work it out so that there won’t be any conflict with any county or city and come up with something comprehensive, that would be best," Boyd said.

Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, is a member of the House Education Policy Committee and said he's undecided on supporting the bill because of local control concerns.

“I feel like we have a very diverse state, with a lot of different school districts and they need to respond to their own community’s needs,” Rafferty said.

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