Hoosier Group Seeks to Delay Fall School Start
Supporters of a bill that would force Indiana schools to wait until after Labor Day to begin the fall semester celebrated a key committee vote Jan. 27 that sends the measure to the Senate floor for the first time, according to the Indianapolis Star.
"It's full steam ahead now," said Becky Bechtel, an Indianapolis mother of two who volunteers as the state coordinator of Save Indiana Summers. "This bill is a no-brainer. There is no reason not to pass it."
Statewide education lobbyists, however, say they will continue to fight the bill, which they say takes local control of calendar options out of the hands of school boards.
"Local boards ought to be setting the school calendar with their teachers and their community," said Frank Bush, who represents 290 school boards as executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association.
"It should not be a statewide mandate."
Despite forecasts of an early death at the hands of seemingly uninterested legislative leaders, Senate Bill 150 has survived longer than other versions in previous years. On Jan. 27, by an 8-1 vote, the Senate Education Committee voted to send the bill to the full Senate.
Under the bill's provisions, public schools and any private schools with state accreditation could not begin classes before the Tuesday after Labor Day. Schools with alternative, year-round calendars would be exempt.
If the measure becomes law, Indiana would join 14 other states with laws regulating school start dates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In most of those cases, the rules call for late August or post-Labor Day starts.
Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, the bill's author, said the bill allows schools to maintain the state's minimum 180-day schedule. And an amendment added Wednesday would give districts flexibility in deciding when to end school, rather than a mandated date of June 10.
"I would not support anything that would sacrifice academic excellence," said Delph, who sees value in summer trips and family gatherings. "I believe in lifelong learning. You don't start learning when you go into the classroom, and you don't stop learning when you leave the classroom."
Over the past several years, Indiana schools have been pushing back their start dates to mid-August or earlier.
Rep. Gregory Porter, D-Indianapolis, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he is open to hearing the debate but said: "On the House side, I know there are still some concerns about this bill. I am open to see if they can bring some new facts to the table and prove to me that local school boards cannot do this now."
Bechtel, who said she's been pushing for a change for seven years, said her Save Indiana Summers group has about 15,000 members across the state who think the bill actually will save money by letting school districts spend less on air conditioning in August.
"It's also going to help industries like swimming pools who hire student lifeguards for the summer. They will see more swimmers, and students will be able to hold on to their jobs," said Bechtel, whose daughter is a lifeguard.
For some teachers at Indianapolis Public Schools, where there still are some schools without air conditioning, August can be a tough month to teach.
The district is slowly upgrading all its buildings.
Bush said school boards don't discount the benefits of a cool classroom, but he said moving the start date to after Labor Day would mean the first semester could not end until January — creating a long gap, thanks to the annual Christmas break.
"You just can't do it unless you restrict all the breaks that schools have now," Bush said. "And that's not in the best interest of students. They need the breaks they have."