Senator hoping to give tourism a few more weeks of summer
If Sen. Chris Girdler and rocker Alice Cooper have anything in common, it’s that both truly want school to be out for summer.
Girdler — the Pulaski County native who represents Pulaski, as well as Lincoln and Boyle, in Frankfort as the District 15 state senator — filed Senate Bill 50, the much-discussed bill that would push school start dates in Kentucky later into August last week.
According to the text of the bill, it would “(a)mend KRS 158.070 to require schools to schedule the first student attendance day no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26, unless a school has adopted a year-round calendar; allow a waiver when a school has missed at least seven days each year for five previous years due to inclement weather.”
Girdler, who has made tourism a focus of his efforts in Frankfort, believes starting school later will create more opportunities for businesses that benefit from recreational traffic to places like Lake Cumberland.
“Tourism obviously is huge for my district because of Lake Cumberland, but we see this bill as a way to generate more revenue for the state, which would in turn provide more tax dollars to fund our public schools,” said Girdler. “A great deal of research went into crafting this bill and I can conclude with confidence that passage of Senate Bill 50 would not only benefit our tourism and economic development efforts but will bring consistency to the school schedule and improve the educational process.”
The bill would give local control to school boards should they choose to start classes before Labor Day. The primary goal would be to prevent schools from starting in early August, which essentially limits students to two months and change in summer off-time.
Girdler has previously told the Commonwealth Journal that he felt the necessary scheduling adjustments would actually benefit schools. In having conversations with teachers, he said, Girdler learned that “you’re having so many breaks, teachers are having to back retroactively and teach things they taught prior to the break. … (With the new calendar), you won’t have a fall break, won’t have all these three- and four-day weekends prior to Christmas. You’ll have a consistent calendar leading into that.”
Girdler said he’s gotten “more positive feedback on this issue” than any other legislation he’s worked on in Frankfort. He and co-sponsor Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown have tried to get other legislators interested, said Girdler and “a few have contacted me about jumping on to help promote” the bill, for which Girdler expected an Education Committee hearing soon before going to the Senate floor for a vote.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said. “… I want to stress that it’s not an anti-education bill. We believe it will improve the quality of education for children, giving them consistency to their school schedule. Studies have shown that states around us (in Kentucky) that start school after Labor Day have higher ACT scores.”
But how do school officials feel about it? Steve Butcher, Superintendent of Pulaski County Schools, said that while he believes people are content with the way things are now, he can see “pros and cons” to both arguments.
“It wouldn’t make a lot of difference in our lives,” said Butcher. “I’m always about trying to do what’s best for the community. Teachers seem to be happy with the schedules we have now. We’d just have to be creative if we start school later.”
Butcher said that over the next two months, his district would likely be working on the 2016-17 calendar.
“We take timely breaks,” he said of the current schedule. “Every few weeks, we take a few days off. I think that makes everything flow better.”
However, “With Lake Cumberland being at our back door, I understand how having a longer summer for tourists to enjoy the lake could be a good thing, but our current schedule seems to be pretty popular too. I say that to say we’re pretty flexible. We’ll do whatever needs to be done.”
Kyle Lively, who took over as Superintendent of Somerset Independent Schools last summer, was more vocal in his opposition to the bill.
“I think school calendars should remain a local decision,” he said, noting that the schedule is often the result of input from different parties such as parents and teachers. “We like our decisions to be made around what’s best for the kids, not always what’s best for adults. I look at it and I don’t see the value for kids.
“It’s a pretty balanced semester split that works better as far as getting breaks out to kids,” he added of the school’s current schedule, which includes a fall break. “… Research shows that if you have an extended gap without instruction, that will cause greater loss of information learned prior to that.
The bill was handed to the Senate Committee on Education for consideration.