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There are reasons why schools are starting back a little later this year

Published 6:00am Saturday, August 18, 2012

Alabama schools start back next week. If it seems a little later than usual, that is because it is.

A bill was passed during the last legislative session that says  — for the next two years — schools cannot open more than 10 days before Labor Day.

This year, the date lands on Aug. 20.

The reason for a later start date is money.

In this hardscrabble time when budgets have been cut for several years in a row, everything comes down to finding money for our schools.

Delaying the school start does two positive things.

First, the extended break lengthens the summer tourism season, which is crucial to Alabama’s economy and accounts for almost 10 percent of the state’s economic activity.

School funding comes primarily from state income and sales taxes, making up the majority of every local school budget.

When state tourism is doing well, the jobs it supports and spending it generates directly benefits education.

Delaying the school start date is estimated to bring an additional $22 million for the Education Trust Fund through increased tourism.

The second impact is energy savings. The school start delay does not impact the length of the school year — most school calendars will now simply run later into May or truncate fall breaks.

It is certainly less expensive to cool a building in May than August, and the reduction in energy costs for schools is estimated to be in the millions.

But the main driving force for an early start has been the all-important standardized tests.

Local school officials want to get as much class time in before children have to sit down and fill in the bubbles on those tests.

State officials have now moved back when those tests will be taken to accommodate the later start date.

But pushing the school start date back can also have a negative impact on students’ “learning loss” — a term to describe what kids forget during the break.

There are ways to combat learning loss.

Many schools send home a book list for the summer to encourage kids to read for at least a little while during vacation.

There are also summer programs that are geared to keep the learning process going.

Wherever students are academically, once school begins it is certain Alabama teachers will work hard to get them up to where they need to be.

There is at least a little more help for teachers.

For the first time in years there is some classroom supply money — not as much as they need — but some nonetheless.

Also for the first time in years there were no teacher layoffs within the state school budget, so class sizes will remain the same overall.

The slight improvement in budgets is attributed in part to the calendar change. Since we are spending so much less on education than we did five years ago, every little bit is needed.

Schools start next week. Let’s hope for a great school year.

 

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each week.

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