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House Republican compares economic losses of abbreviated school summer breaks to HB2

Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick

House Bill 389, a bipartisan measure that would test school calendar flexibility for up to 20 counties in North Carolina, may not include Rep. Frank Iler‘s Brunswick County district.

But the coastal North Carolina Republican is still fired up over the state House Education Committee‘s approval Tuesday of a proposed pilot program that would assess the academic impacts of shorter summer breaks in a smattering of low-income and rural counties across the state.

Iler said he believes the economic impacts on the state’s tourism industry would “dwarf” the losses of the state’s mega-controversial, anti-LGBT legislation HB2, which the Associated Press pegged this week at an estimated $3.76 billion.

“I hope we’ll think long and hard before putting 20 counties in a program like this,” said Iler, moments before most House legislators on the committee signed off on the measure.

Iler’s comments echoed a long-running debate in North Carolina over summer breaks. Since 2004, the state has mandated start and end times for local districts, after tourism and parents groups complained of dwindling summer breaks.

Yet, with researchers suggesting shortened breaks could speed performance gains in students, particularly low-income students, some K-12 advocates from both parties have been urging state lawmakers to back local flexibility.

And while a February report from the legislature’s nonpartisan Performance Evaluation Division bypassed recommendations for all of the state’s counties, the agency did suggest lawmakers review the proposal for low-performing districts.

Rep. Linda Johnson, a Cabarrus County Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the three-year pilot program could help shed some light on the lingering debate.

“What we don’t have is data to tell us who is right and who is wrong,” said Johnson. “This bill will help us tell who is right and who is wrong.”

The program would begin as soon as 2018-2019 and would require annual state reports on the academic impacts, although lawmakers acknowledged the draft bill, even if it’s approved by the full House, could run into roadblocks in the state Senate.

The proposed legislation comes with more than 50 local bills granting calendar flexibility pending in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Another of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, said there is clearly a demand for calendar flexibility in the state.

“This one size does not fit all,” said Warren. “We do have areas that can support calendar flexibility.”

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