It’s not often Focus on the Family runs across legislation aimed at increasing the quality of family time together and aiding academic performance of our youth. We were pleasantly surprised when parent volunteers with the group Save Alabama Summers brought the issue to our attention and shared with us the names of many legislators pushing for a school start date no earlier than August 15.
The school year in Alabama has slowly crept from a late-August or post-Labor Day start to late-July for many. Last year over 30,000 Alabama students returned the hot classrooms by the end of July. Ninety-five percent of students had returned to classrooms before August 15.
Why the slow creep in the school start date? Some like to say it’s for educational reasons, yet they can’t point to any evidence. Research compilation by Dr. Gene Glass of Arizona State University showed that the calendar configuration does not impact academic performance. When we stop for a moment to think about it, it’s obvious that anything that supports family time and educational excellence is good for kids.
Parents fighting the ever-earlier school start date say the piecemealed vacations cut in to quality family time. Parents add finding child care one or two days at a time prohibits them from enrolling their children in quality day care programs, and with the reduction of extra programming at many schools this enrichment is not just a luxury, but a necessity in rearing well rounded children. The shorter summer also has reduced the number of camp and extracurricular scholarships provided to low-income students. These scholarships help children receive experiences not otherwise available to them.
Teachers report the encroaching school start date is returning children to the classroom far too earlier. Many say the first semester was once the most exciting for students. After a full summer, students were rested and ready to return to hitting the books. High school students who held summer jobs were eager to prepare for college studies. Now, with the shorter summer students reluctantly pack their book bags and prepare for the school year — while friends and relatives in other states continue to enjoy time at the pool or time simply playing games as a family.
Regardless of the school calendar, students in Alabama receive the same number of days of instruction. Yet the configuration of the calendar may be sending more money to electric companies and less money to teacher salaries and classroom supplies. For example, schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma were faced with the same financial strains as many schools in Alabama. District administrators and school board members looked at the cost of cooling schools in August and found by pushing back the start of the school year they could save money. The move from August 19 to the day after Labor Day was estimated to save $200,000. When all was said and done the district reported a savings of around $400,000. That’s money that was used to save teaching positions — giving our children more for our money.
I often hear people say tough times call for tough measures. But it is now time for administrators and legislators to cut the fat without cutting the services our children receive. Newspaper articles cite the support of athletic coaches and the Alabama Education Association for this issue. I know Save Alabama Summers enjoys the support of thousands of parents around the state.
House Bill 372 not only provides more quality time for families, more time for teachers to achieve advanced degrees and “highly qualified” status during the summer, but frees up tax dollars currently being used for high electric bills and allows those dollars to be used for services that truly benefit our students — higher paid teachers and more academic services.
It’s time for everyone to get involved and support legislation that truly supports families, our youth and teachers.