Later school start date could grow state’s economy by more than $300 million

The state’s economy could grow by more than $300 million a year if education officials change the school start date to later in August, a study by Montgomery economist Dr. Keivan Deravi shows. Schools would save money on utilities, teachers could earn more money on part-time jobs during a longer summer break, and families would have greater flexibility in planning vacations, advocates say. A coalition of statewide tourism organizations commissioned the study to support classes starting on or after Aug. 15, mirroring a trend in other Southern states.
Sen. Zeb Little of Cullman and Rep. Craig Ford of Gadsden drafted House Bill 629 that is scheduled for discussion Wednesday in the House Education Policy Committee. Little said, “The state is in economic crisis. Tax collections are down. Alabamians are losing jobs and education funding is being cut. This is a simple solution that can be enacted immediately. It will increase tax collections, create jobs and reduce non-instructional costs for school systems.” Ford said, “Personally, I think the school year should start after Labor Day, but Aug. 15 is better than the current average start date of Aug. 6 or 7.”  Some 70 percent of Alabama schools started their instructional phase during the current school year last Aug. 7, the study found.
Reducing the number of days in August that classrooms require cooling “will cut statewide school utility bills by millions,” said Ford. Boards of education could save an estimated $14 million a year – or 6% – in electrical bills by shifting instructional days from hotter days in August to cooler days in May, the Deravi report suggests. The legislators said economics isn’t the primary reason for the proposal, but the data makes their case stronger. The Cullman senator said, “Teachers feel starting so early is detrimental to our children and parents are frustrated that their voices are ignored on the local level.” The AEA delegates assembly approved a resolution in December calling for a later school start date.  Parents have joined tourism officials in support of a later start date. A poll conducted by the Alabama Education Association’s Capitol Survey Research Center found that 83 percent of voters want their legislators to create a standardized start date for public schools. The survey was conducted in January.
States began starting school earlier in order to complete first semester exams before the winter break and maximize the number of instructional days prior to standardized achievement testing in the spring. Many Southern states were responding to a 1983 report “A Nation At Risk,” which issued a call to public schools to boost student achievement results. At least 11 states, most of them in the South, have enacted laws pushing school-start dates later in August or after Labor Day, Deravi said. Ford said that concerns about test scores are not justified. “Data from states that have adopted later start dates show that academics have not suffered. Test scores, college entrance exam scores and advanced placement test scores have increased,” he said. Teachers and students who have part-time jobs in the summer would be able to earn more money if school did not start as early as it currently does, tourism officials say.
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