Home » Opinion | State Sen. Chris Girdler: Measure school year by hours, not days

Opinion | State Sen. Chris Girdler: Measure school year by hours, not days

I find myself asking the same question at this time each year, ‘is summer over already?’ For most Kentucky students the answer is unfortunately ‘yes.’ In an effort to preserve prosperity enjoyed by Kentucky’s tourism industry and our overall economy and increase funding for our educational system, I filed Senate Bill (SB) 50 in the 2016 Legislative Session. SB 50 is a measure that would have allowed local school districts the ability and option to choose whether they want to meet a minimum hours versus a minimum days requirement. This variable student instructional year increases local control and allows our districts to be innovative and flexible to increase genuine attendance and face time of students. It allows them to be proactive in their scheduling rather than reactive.

SB 50 passed the Senate by a large margin, but unfortunately was never given a hearing in the House Education Committee. The legislation was a win-win. It would have created local calendar committees, allowing submissions and opinions from the business and tourism community to be considered. Personally, I believe a statewide school calendar is needed to bring about continuity across our Commonwealth, but SB 50 not only retained local control, it enhanced it. School districts can currently decide to start at any time of their choosing, but SB 50 would have allowed districts the opportunity to be innovative, creative, and flexible in determining their community’s needs as well as Kentucky as a whole.

The bill provided that districts adopting a school calendar with the first student attendance day no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 may use a variable student instructional year requiring that it only meet a minimum number of hours. Such a standard is already used in many states whose educational performance exceeds Kentucky’s schools.

I recently read that Fayette County Schools are considering a proposal that would start the school year almost a week later in 2017-18. A recent article published by the Lexington Herald-Leader notes that there is significant support for the measure amongst school staff. I applaud the local school board in Fayette County for their efforts to preserve the summer for Fayette County students and families.

Earlier this year, a study was conducted by the Kentucky Travel Industry Association demonstrating the detrimental effect the early school start dates are having on our economy. The study noted:

· The August school days cost the Kentucky economy over $432 MILLION in economic revenue and activity.
· The August school days cost Kentucky close to 6,000 jobs, the reduction in workforce in August resulted in $97 MILLION in lost wages.
· The August school days cost Kentucky over $45 MILLION in state and local tax revenue.

The travel industry is not alone in benefitting from this legislation – I believe it will aid agriculture in Kentucky as well. One of the initial reasons for dismissing students on summer vacation was to allow children to work on family farms. When the majority of a family’s workers return to school, the farm is forced to struggle through the thick of the harvest season.

Additionally, prolonging the start of classes will improve energy efficiency at schools and improve the safety and quality of life for our students. Utility costs, currently driven by the overtaxing of equipment that cool the large facilities in summer, would decrease. The bill also would allow some students to avoid riding up to three hours a day on a school bus in August heat with no air conditioning, as happens in Pulaski County, our state’s third largest county.

Since filing the legislation the past two years, I have been overwhelmed with the amount of support received throughout my travels. Of course, some critics may say that I, along with others, am choosing the economy over education. Nothing could be further from the truth. First and foremost, I have two children in Kentucky’s public school system and I would never do anything that I felt would be detrimental to their education. We are all in this together and the two sectors of education and economic development go hand in hand. Our educational system gets its funding from the economic activity in our state and the tax revenue created from it.

I’ve enjoyed working with new Kentucky Education Commissioner, Stephen Pruitt. Quite frankly, he is a breath of fresh air for our Commonwealth. I was encouraged to see him quoted recently as saying, “The reality is, every big reform we have had in Kentucky really started in the business community because the business community said, ‘hey, it’s time for some change.'” Well folks, the time for change is now. In turn, I ask our education community in Kentucky to keep an open mind. I strongly encourage businessmen and women, parents, teachers, and school officials to talk to their local boards and urge them to make the move to later start dates for our children. Although I will no longer be serving in the Kentucky Senate in 2017, this is an issue that will be carried on by my colleagues and one I will continue to fight for back home in Somerset. The evidence speaks for itself, this is a positive move for Kentucky students, families, and businesses.

State Sen. Chris Girdler (R-Somerset) represents the 15th District encompassing Boyle, Lincoln and Pulaski counties. He chairs the Senate’s Tourism Development Committee as well as the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and is vice-chair of the Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee.