I did something recently I had never in my life even thought about doing. I went to Montgomery and testified before the Alabama Senate Committee on Education. I was as nervous as long-tailed cat in roomful of rocking chairs, but I was standing at that podium in front of that microphone and in front of those senators speaking on behalf of my family and my friends. I spoke in support of legislation that would give summers back to Alabama’s children and their families.
I’m not a lawyer or a lobbyist. I’m a painter and small-time residential contractor. My wife works at the Post Office. We have three young children. The “school calendar creep” which has had the new school year beginning earlier each fall excuse me, summer — has had a major negative impact on my family. My friends, who are for the most part also working parents, agree.
School used to start around Labor Day each year. I read that last summer, 30,000 Alabama kids were back in class during July. I know mine were. A few years ago, we were informed in late spring that the next school year would begin in late July. We weren’t asked what we thought about it, we were simply told to obey state law and have our kids back in class when the school system ordered us to do so.
Now that we start so early, there’s time during the school year for more breaks. Our children will have 10 of them this year. Kids are constantly in and out of school and they rarely seem to settle into a good routine. I don’t know who the extra breaks benefit, but I know that they’re not helping working parents and their kids.
The breaks range from one to 16 school days long, and there’s at least one in every month except August. I work outside I can tell you that August is the hottest month of the year. Children in our community are riding to and from school in hot buses when they could be swimming or playing outdoors. I looked at my utility bills, and August is also the most expensive month for heating or cooling. Maybe the extra money we’re spending to cool our schools that month could be used to buy books, instead of trying to pay for them with more legalized gambling.
During the short summer holidays, we have plenty of opportunities to get our children enrolled in quality programs while my wife and I work. Churches, recreation departments, camps and other organizations can find seasonal employees and offer supervised activities for children. When we have the other breaks throughout the year, either my wife or I have to take days off from our jobs to take care of our kids.
We barely have any vacation days left for what little summer we have. Maybe school administrators enjoy the time off, but my family sure doesn’t get to. Nor do the coaches, athletes, band members and cheerleaders who keep on practicing, competing and performing right through the “fall break.”
I heard last year that if our kids were in a low-performing school as determined by tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act, then before school started we would have the option of moving them to another school or maybe getting them some extra tutoring help. Then I found out that the test results weren’t released in Alabama until Aug.14 and that, apparently in violation of federal law, my kids and almost every other kid in Alabama started school before then. In fact, it turns out only five systems started school after that date.
It’s not enough for parents to get that information the day school starts, we need those test results several weeks before the first day of class if we’re going to consider moving our children to a different school. The goal is supposed to be to leave no child behind, not to stop all children from moving.
It’s time to give summers back to Alabama kids, give parents time to spend with their children and give them the time to make the important school-choice decisions promised them by federal law. The legislators supporting later school start dates are on the right track. The others may be listening to the people who created this problem in the first place.