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N.C. legislature inches closer to school calendar reform

School busesAfter more than a decade of bickering over the public school calendar’s start and end times, North Carolina legislators moved closer Thursday to enlisting a pilot program that would research the impacts of shortened summer breaks on student performance.

House lawmakers on Thursday overwhelmingly approved House Bill 389. The bill, as explained in this March Policy Watch report, enlists 20 rural counties in a pilot program allowing districts to amend their calendars to reconvene around Aug. 10, rather than the late-August start time enshrined in state law.

Education researchers argue abbreviated summer breaks may improve academic performance, particularly among low-performing students, because it blunts the impacts of so-called “summer learning loss.”

The draft legislation orders officials with the Department of Public Instruction to provide annual reports on the program’s impacts to the legislature. Meanwhile, the State Board of Education and Department of Commerce would also offer reports on the program to the UNC School of Government.

If approved, counties would have the option to participate beginning in 2018-2019.

House lawmakers also appear poised to give their approval to House Bill 375 next week, a draft bill granting districts the power to time the start of their school year with community colleges.

Legislators say K-12 calendars are currently out of sync with community colleges, which mostly begin their academic year in mid-August. They say House Bill 375 will help high school students who want to take community college coursework as well.

Both bills will likely face a more unpredictable path to approval in the state Senate, which has traditionally been more skeptical of cutting summer breaks.

WRAL offered up this report on the legislature’s simmering calendar debate Thursday, which included, as expected, stiff resistance from eastern North Carolina Republicans:

Coastal lawmakers blasted the bills, saying they would chew up about 20 percent of the summer vacation season.

“This is a backdoor way of moving the school calendar into August,” said Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick, of aligning school schedules with community colleges.

“When you talk about local control, think about the parents and the teachers,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret. “This is not what our families want.”

McElraft said students and teachers would have a harder time landing the summer jobs they now work for extra money, and she also noted that summer tourism now generates about $785 million more in state and local tax revenue than before the calendar law was enacted.

“How many teachers and teaching assistants does that pay for?” she asked.

Backers of the proposals said starting the school year earlier would allow students to take final exams for the fall semester before the Christmas break, which could lead to improved test performance, and would give school districts more leeway to schedule around days when classes are canceled because of severe weather.

“We hear from parents every day all the way down to elementary school who would like school to begin earlier in August,” said Leanne Winner, director of government relations for the North Carolina School Boards Association.

Rep.Harry Warren, R-Rowan, the sponsor of the 20-county pilot program measure, said the proposal would help state education officials collect data on student performance under different calendar scenarios.

“We need to make decisions based on data, not presumptions,” Warren said.

Other lawmakers simply said they no longer want to be part of the calendar debate.

“Why in the world are we up here in Raleigh setting calendars?” asked Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.

“It’s an education issue, period,” said Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Macon, urging fellow House members not to get hung up on the tourism debate.

 

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