Georgia should start and end school year later, senate committee says

Members of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta greet students as they arrive for the first day of school at Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary in East Point on Aug. 6, 2018. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Members of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta greet students as they arrive for the first day of school at Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary in East Point on Aug. 6, 2018. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

A state Senate committee that has a majority of legislators and bureaucrats representing business and tourism interests unanimously approved recommendations Thursday that include starting and ending the public school year later.

The Senate Study Committee on Evaluating the School Year Calendar of Georgia Public Schools foray into the issue has drawn opposition from some school districts and education organizations who believe districts should decide when the school year begins and ends, not the state. Committee members said Thursday they were aware of those concerns and recommended a range of dates — no earlier than seven to 10 days before Labor Day — for the start date. They recommended ending around June 1. They described the recommendation as "guard rails for local control."

Most of Georgia’s 181 school districts begin the school year in the first or second week of August. A few begin in late July. Many classes end the third week of May. Committee members said reasons for starting later include the cost to cool classrooms during the hottest days of summer, concerns about students riding hot buses, better aligning the schedule for students taking college courses and making it easier for students to work summer jobs. Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who sponsored the resolution calling for the committee and led it, said 13 other states have similar laws.

The recommendations are non-binding, but Gooch said he hopes it encourages school districts to get more parental input about the school calendar.

“It will help send a message back to the school boards ‘Hey, we want more involvement in this decision process,’ ” Gooch told reporters.

Senate staffers said the report would be released Friday.

Georgia School Boards Association policy and legislative services director Angela Palm said while a discussion about better coordinating the calendar for students in college dual-enrollment classes is a worthwhile, she believes start dates should be decided by local school districts. She thinks the committee is really an attempt to help businesses.

“They’re clearly trying to do this to create a summer work force,” Palm, who attended Thursday’s meeting.

During a committee meeting last week, businessmen testified about losing summer workers to early school starts, depriving the students of money and on-the-job learning. And entertainment and tourism businesses testified about losing customers.

Gooch also hopes the committee’s work will spark a conversation about pushing mandated tests, such as the Georgia Milestones, to near the end of the school year to increase classroom instruction time.

Gooch attended the meeting with his 10-year-old son, Sawyer, a fourth-grader. Asked when he wanted the school year to begin, Sawyer replied, “After July.”

His birthday is in July, his dad explained.

Here’s are proposed and approved start dates for the 2019-20 school year in various metro Atlanta school districts:

Monday, July 29: Rockdale County

Thursday, Aug. 1: Cherokee, Cobb, Forsyth and Henry counties; Decatur and Marietta city schools

Monday, Aug. 5: Clayton, DeKalb, Fayette and Gwinnett counties

Wednesday, Aug. 7: Douglas and Hall counties

Monday, Aug. 12: Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County

Why It Matters:

There are an estimated 1.8 million students in Georgia’s public school system. Many parents arrange their summer vacation on the school calendar and some say they have trouble finding child care during the year because of school breaks. Proponents to changes to the calendar say it’s an issue of jobs, costs and safety, citing concerns such as children on school buses during late July and early August, some of the hottest times of the year.