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Senate committee recommends longer summers for Georgia students

A Senate study committee dominated by tourism interests today recommended longer summers for Georgia students.

The committee wants schools to start within a week to 10 days before the first Monday in September and wrap up around June 1. 

That would create close to a three-month summer break, which is better for businesses that depend on tourism and vacationers. 

But is it better for kids?

That was not a major concern of the committee, which goes a long way in explaining why Georgia struggles to improve its education standing. Missing from the committee, which met several times this fall to consider the ideal calendar, were teachers, school leaders or PTA reps. 

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There was never a pretense that academics were the priority. The resolution creating the committee stated: "The General Assembly needs to fully review and study the issue of varied school start dates to determine its economic impact to the travel and hospitality industry."

The committee includes chair and state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, Deputy Commissioner of Tourism for the Department of Economic Development Kevin Langston, Georgia Chamber of Commerce designee Michael Owens, Director of the Georgia Travel Association Kelsey Moore, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus Jay Markwalter, former state Director of Community Affairs Camila Knowles, State Board of Education member Scott Johnson and Grier Todd, chief operating officer at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.

Driving the committee’s discussions was a belief that the range of school starting dates across Georgia and the shorter summers hurt the tourism trade. Business owners told the committee Aug. 1 start dates made it harder to hire a summer workforce and that kids benefited from the work experience.

This is not a new effort. In 2005, Georgia lawmakers attempted to push back start of school after complaints from the travel industry that it was losing both visitors and its teenage workforce because of earlier starting dates. Many Georgia schools now resume the first or second week of August. That 2005 campaign failed after both the governor and state school superintendent at the time opposed any legislative intrusion into the setting of school calendars.

The recommendations of the committee are non-binding, but its members want school districts to reconsider the trend toward shorter summers with more breaks throughout the year. Under the study committee’s calendar guidelines, districts would have to sacrifice some breaks to still comply with the 180-day school year rule. 

School leaders who testified before the committee urged the Senate to leave calendar decision to locals. The Cherokee County School District even put the question to its parents, and employees. 

The survey resulted in 8,305 responses from parents and 2,674 responses from employees. The overwhelming majority – 80 percent parents and 86 percent of employees – voted against a mandated start after Labor Day. The groups cited the September and February break as the most important features of CCSD’s balanced calendar, which has been in place for more than 15 years. 

The committee described its recommendations as “guard rails for local control.” But the limited dates recommended by the committee for the start and end of the school year sound more like barricades than railings.

 

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.

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