@NCCapitol

NC House bill would allow earlier start to school year

Posted March 4, 2011 4:55 p.m. EST
Updated March 4, 2011 11:37 p.m. EST

School Bus

— State lawmakers are considering a bill that would give local school boards more flexibility with when to start and end the school year.

House Bill 94 would repeal a 2004 law that requires districts to begin the school year after Aug. 25 and end it no later than June 10.

Under the proposed legislation, schools operating on a traditional calendar schedule would be able to open any time after Aug. 15. The bill does not apply to schools operating on a year-round calendar.

Supporters of changing the law point to issues like a high number of snow days, especially in the western part of the state, and the challenge in making those up to meet the 180 days of school mandated by state law.

“They need the flexibility to have calendars that speak to the needs of their system,” said Jo Ann Norris, associate executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonprofit public school advisory board.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson agrees.

“North Carolina is very diverse. In the western part of this state, for example, Watauga County, the Boone area, would probably miss about 20 days per (school) year,” she said. “Why should not Watauga County have the authority to set its own calendar without having to go through a waiver process?”

The 2004 legislation was the result of a group of business owners and parents who, in part, were concerned about how extending the school calendar into the summer months could affect local tourism economies.

Businesses at North Carolina tourist destinations depend on the summer months to boost their profits, and business owners say every week of the tourism season is critical.

“(The school calendar) affects so many things, not just tourism, but it affects jobs,” said Ronnie Watson, a businessman on Emerald Isle who helped push for the 2004 law. “You’re talking about hundreds of millions of lost revenue to our state.”

Atkinson said she believes local school boards across the state should also take into consideration the travel and tourism industry, as well as the community’s needs and wants.

As it stands now, House Bill 94 doesn’t specify when the last day of the school year can be. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Commerce and Job Development.

If the bill passes, it would become law beginning with the 2011-2012 school year.