JACKSON — There would be no more early-August starts for Mississippi public schools under a bill lawmakers are considering.
House Bill 707, as amended today by the Senate Education Committee, would require that schools start no earlier than the third Monday in August, which would be anywhere from Aug. 15 to Aug. 21.
Advocates say that pushing back the beginning of school means families would be likely to take more summer trips, pumping money into the state’s tourism industry. They say a delayed start also means schools would spend less on air conditioning and students would swelter less in sports, in band and on school buses.
Opponents say the bill strips away local autonomy and that helping the tourism industry is a bad reason to change the school calendar.
“I don’t have a problem if the local districts want to do it, but they don’t want it,” said Sen. Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian.
The Gulf Coast Business Council, a Gulfport-based business group, has been pushing the issue for a number of years. The council wrote in a 2010 study that a later start date would raise tourism spending by $100 million in Mississippi, as well as create another $40 million in indirect benefits, as money is passed through the economy.
“The business community is engaged in this issue based on the very significant economic impact on tourism,” said Norris, who said the issue bubbled up from individual tourism businesses that are council members.
The council also cites a fall 2011 survey of 1,000 Mississippians that showed 84 percent support for delaying the start of school, and says that it could find no impact on academic achievement in the dozen states that have laws regulating start dates.
“It’s not an issue academically,” agreed State Superintendent Tom Burnham. He said that concern about how hot it is in August is “valid.” Proponents say air conditioning costs more in August, athletes and band members suffer during outdoor practice, and most school buses are not cooled.
“When it reaches Aug. 4 and we have to go to school, parents, teachers and kids are not actually in education mode,” said Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Gulfport.
Sam Bounds, executive director of Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, opposes the bill. He said one reason for early-August starts is the increase in number of school days. He also said that a stretched-out calendar with more holidays gives teachers and students more breathers.
“It’s about local control,” said Bounds.
The House bill originally mandated a start date no earlier than the fourth Monday in August, but the Senate amended it to the third Monday. Burnham warned that starting on the fourth Monday could mean that students would attend school into June, if bad weather forced make-up days.
The bill includes a two-year transition, which Burnham said was necessary to negotiate a delay in state testing and to rework athletic schedules.
One problem posed by a late start is that it may push the end of the first semester into January. If semesters aren’t equal, students who only take a subject for one semester would not get equal amounts of instruction time.
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