MONTGOMERY, Ala. - An Alabama lawmaker says public schools should extend their summer breaks through Labor Day to help workforce development.
Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, said he’ll sponsor legislation to require school summer breaks run at least from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Currently, may systems end their year prior to Memorial Day, but start in early August.
If Hurst’s proposal were in effect this year, students would have a 15-week break.
He said the current summer breaks don’t give older students enough time to get summer jobs and work experience.
“What we need is for these kids to have an opportunity to get a job, make a little money for them and momma and daddy, and learn a work ethic and discipline,” Hurst said recently.
Hurst points to reports that the state is facing a skilled worker shortage and Gov. Kay Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 newly certified or degreed workers. Hurst said he’s talked to business owners who say they don’t have time in the existing summer breaks to train student workers.
“It doesn’t give kids enough time for worker training,” he said. ““I’m just trying to get more workers in Alabama.”
National Federation of Independent Business state director Rosemary Elebash agrees.
This year, she polled the organization’s about 6,000 members and they’d like longer summer breaks for potential hires.
“Our No. 1 issue, not just in Alabama but across the nation, is that we can’t find qualified workers,” Elebash said.
She said by the time paperwork and initial training is done, it’s nearly time for the students to return to school.
“We’re losing that opportunity for them to gain that experience,” Elebash said. “…This is a real workforce issue for us.”
Current law gives systems some flexibility in their days, requiring 180 full instructional days at six hours of instruction per day or 1,080 instructional hours over the course of the year.
Bill Hopkins Jr. is superintendent for Morgan County Schools. He has multiple concerns about extending summer break, including the impact on students with working parents.
“We will have young students who will be sitting at home alone longer,” Hopkins said. “They’re not going to be read to, they’re not going to be engaged.
“We know for underprivileged children, a longer break is a disadvantage.”
Meanwhile, high schools already work with students to help them get work experience through co-ops and by offering virtual classes to give them more flexibility in their school schedules.
“Education has never been better at working with individual students than we are now,” he said.
Sally Smith, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said she hadn’t previously heard complaints about the current break being a worker training issue.
“We have apprenticeship programs going on all over, throughout the year,” Smith said.
And students have after-school jobs too.
“If we have to lengthen the school day, that will impact those (students),” she said.
Though Hurst hasn’t introduced a bill yet, his proposal is generating concern from school groups, some of whom are contacting their local lawmakers.
Rep. Parker Moore, R-Decatur, said he hasn’t seen any legislation, but opposes the change in principle.
“I think (calendars) should be left up to the local schools,” Moore said.
Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, agrees.
“I have always believed that local school boards should determine the school calendar and I doubt that's going to change,” Ball said.
Hopkins is an elected superintendent. He and most of the county board of education ran as Republicans.
“We feel the foundation of what we do is based on local control,” Hopkins said.
The Alabama Association of School Boards is encouraging local boards to pass resolutions opposing mandated break dates.
“This is a huge concern to local schools and communities across the state,” Smith said.
Hursts’ proposal would significantly reduce schools’ winter breaks and could eliminate others. And systems would lose the flexibility they have to accommodate local events, like Mardi Gras in the Mobile area and race days in Talladega. Schools in north Alabama build severe weather days into their schedules.
Smith said adding time to the school day isn’t the same education value as full school days.
Hurst said they could get it done without significantly lengthening their days.
“We want them to have that right to adjust it, we just want more time in the summer months,” he said.
Hurst met with some school superintendents last week and he said conversations will continue before he files a bill this year.
Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of School Superintendents of Alabama, said it’s hard to comment on the proposal without seeing a bill.
“However, we believe the school calendar should be a local decision made by local board members and superintendents after input from their stakeholders,” he said. “ We met with (Hurst last week) and had a great conversation about some of his concerns. We plan to gather some information and meet with him in the very near future.”
Hurst said he’s worked on this issue for two years and will continue to, even if it doesn’t get approved this year.
In the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, lawmakers mandated that systems could start no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day and end by the Friday before Memorial Day.
That temporary law was supported largely by those who said an extended summer vacation would increase tourism on the Alabama coast and raise more tax money for the state education fund.
Alabama Daily News reporters Caroline Beck, Abby Driggers and Devin Pavlou contributed to this report.