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Study of later school start times lacks input from parents



Monitor staff
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Ending summer vacation after Labor Day is opposed by virtually all New Hampshire school organizations, but favored by many tourism and business officials, a commission that studied the issue found.

But the commission that studied requiring schools to begin classes in September didn’t ask parents how they would feel about the change.

Gov. Chris Sununu supports protecting the last days of August and created the “Save Our Summers” commission, comprised of tourism and education officials. The report released Wednesday summarized the commission’s findings, but shied away from explicitly endorsing any course of action.

Both major teacher unions – the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association – as well as the New Hampshire School Boards Association and the New Hampshire School Administrators Association all oppose requiring schools start after Labor Day for a variety of reasons, including concerns about local control and extending the school year due to a harsh winter.

However, an economic study found that New Hampshire would have seen an additional $17.3 million in recreational and tourism spending in 2017 and teens lose out on an estimated $1.3 million in wages due to shorter summers.

“It is refreshing to see the Governor take such an interest in public education, but we believe his attention would be better served if it were focused on real issues facing schools and not the length of summer vacation,” said NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle during testimony.

“We believe the attention and effort to ‘Save our Summers’ does nothing to address or improve student success,” she later said in the testimony. “...Mandating a statewide school start date will do nothing to ensure that New Hampshire’s children come to school with what they need to succeed, and that districts have the resources they need to support student success.”

Benefits to the business community – especially those reliant on tourism – would include improved economic activity in the state, alleviated workforce shortages among student workers, additional income and job training skills for students, and increase state revenues, the report states.

Commission members who supported starting school post-Labor Day included representatives of the Lakes Region Tourism Association, Ski New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Travel Council, Canobie Lake Park and the New England Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions.

“Based on the information obtained during our meetings, it is our opinion that there is no definitive obstacle in creating a consistent post-Labor Day school start date in the state,” a supporters statement read. “...however, an economic impact study was presented that showed that the state would stand to gain substantial revenue as a result of changing the school start date.”

Rep. Rick Ladd of Haverhill, who chaired the House Education Committee, opposed moving start times, citing the importance of local choice in the matter.

Opponents were also concerned about an increased loss in academic proficiency via the summer “brain drain,” increased food insecurity, or a lack of behavioral health support for students, the report notes.

Opposition was characterized as “a strong desire for local school districts and collective bargaining units to maintain control of the calendar.”

“A legislative mandate to establish a post-Labor Day start date is viewed as disruptive and challenging to implement given the district-by-district variations in the calendar and local contracts,” the report reads. “Opponents point to the ability of school districts to already consider local opinions and to change their start dates accordingly.”

The commission met with representatives from the education, tourism, farming and business communities during their weekly meetings that kicked off Oct. 15, but was unable to “broadly assess the opinions of parents and students ... outside of the representation of its own members and witnesses,” according to the report.

The report notes parents would have the chance to weigh in on the issue should policymakers bring legislation forward.

Gov. Sununu said in a statement that the report will pave the way for legislators to tackle the issue further.

The commission did recommend that any legislation should include an effective start date two to three years after enactment to accommodate new contracts and a September start date not tied to Labor Day. It also suggested the legislation be flexible so that districts can determine the structure of their calendars.

The percentage of public school students starting the school year after Labor Day has declined by half since 1999, according to the report.

Similar “Save our Summers” campaigns have popped up around the country. North Carolina has mandated the beginning and end of summer vacation for public schools for more than a dozen years as a way to both support tourism at the state’s beaches and mountain getaways and appease parents unhappy with increasingly earlier first days of school. There, schools can start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11, though there are exceptions.

Wisconsin law has prohibited starting school before Sept. 1 since 2000, and Maryland’s governor issued an executive order in 2016 requiring schools to complete their required 180 days between Labor Day and June 15 under most circumstances. Other states, however, have gone in the opposite direction.

(Material from the Associated press was used in this report. Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)