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What educators are saying about push for schools to have later start dates
State Senate panel tries to balance local control, tourism interests
Will Schofield
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield

With students in Hall County Schools returning to class this week, and Gainesville City Schools students set to return next week, a Georgia Senate study committee is recommending more uniformity in school calendars for 181 districts across the state.

Among the committee’s many suggestions for lawmakers to consider when the Georgia General Assembly convenes this year is a requirement that school districts start classes no earlier than seven to 10 days prior to the first Monday in September, and end on or about June 1.

But the proposal to push back the start of the academic year (both Hall County Schools and Gainesville City Schools begin in early August, for example) has been continually met with opposition from local school district officials and educators’ associations.

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield and Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams have said “local control” of school calendars is imperative to meet the needs and demands of each community and district.

Representatives from the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and Georgia Association of Educators told the committee – made up of lawmakers, state education officials and tourism industry leaders – they oppose state mandates on school calendars and support local control.

Jeremy Williams --NEW
Gainesville City Schools incoming Superintendent Jeremy Williams

But the committee, which described its recommendations as “guardrails” for lawmakers to consider, said early start dates to the academic year have major negative impacts on the state’s travel and tourism industry, while also placing additional financial burdens on low-income families.

More uniformity could also better align school district calendars with Georgia’s colleges and universities, the committee reports.

Many states have guidelines for when school years should start and end.

For example, many Midwestern states, from Michigan to Iowa, do not start until after Labor Day.

Closer to home, South Carolina mandates that schools not begin until the third Monday in August. But Tennessee places start times at no earlier than Aug. 1.

Georgia defines a school year as a minimum of 180 days, but makes no claim on start and end dates for public school districts.

Some elected officials, speaking before the committee over the course of several meetings held this fall, said scattered start times could place costly strains on families with children in more than one school district.

And the addition of more breaks in the fall and spring as school calendars are stretched across a larger portion of the year might also place financial burdens on low-income families who require child care support.

Meanwhile, representatives from the Atlanta Braves, Callaway Gardens, Stone Mountain Park and Six Flags, among other tourist attractions in the metro Atlanta area, said earlier school start dates impact their summer revenue and programming.

For example, Callaway Gardens’ “Summer Family Adventure” has been reduced to seven weeks from 11 as schools start earlier, resulting in nearly $900,000 of lost revenue, according to company officials.

Travel and tourism industry leaders also said summer jobs, which provide valuable first experiences for youth, are being cut short due to earlier school start dates.

In its report, the committee acknowledged the competing interests of school officials and tourism representatives.  

However, “Through its investigation, this committee found no evidence to suggest that a more congruent school calendar or a later start date to the school year statewide could have a negative impact on education,” the committee’s report states.

The report goes on to say that it wants to balance local control while putting “guardrails” in place to drive decision making on school calendars.

That includes the seven to 10-day window, a recommendation to delay end-of-year testing to maximize instructional days, and also eliminating the requirement that state-mandated tests be scored prior to the end of the school year. 

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