Lawmakers are expected to take up a bill that would change when the school year begins and ends and how many breaks students get. The bill allows for a 12-week summer, forcing schools to start the year no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day and end before Memorial Day. Schools would still have to provide 180 days of instruction, with schools having the option to extend the number of hours students spend in class each day.
The bill, known as the Flexible School Calendar Act of 2012, is designed to generate more tourism dollars, by giving Alabama residents an extra two weeks to visit the Gulf Coast and other tourist destinations in the state.
“This is tourism driven and not tied to education,” Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Adkins told members of the Kiwanis Club of Jasper.
Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper), who has not decided how he will vote on the bill, said it is designed to accomplish two things — allow schools to save funds and improving state tourism.
“It is most expensive to run schools during those first few weeks when they are having to run the air conditioners constantly,” he said. “Generating tourism dollars would also benefit schools because those dollars will go to the Education Trust Fund.”
The bill passed the House last week and is now within the Senate where an amendment was added that guaranteed, if passed, divisors will not be raised by as much as anticipated, which would result in more teaching units for schools across the state. The amendment was added, because supporters believe millions will be stimulated from the additional tax dollars.
“They are dangling this carrot in front of us, saying that we could get $20 million for education if it is passed,” Adkins said. “If education is a concern, and $20 million is available, why haven’t we already gotten it?”
Reed said funds are projected on additional tax dollars and any other money would have to come from the Rolling Reserve Act.
“There has to be a source of income to take money from the Rolling Reserve,” Reed said. “It can’t just be taken out. The income in this case is the additional tourism dollars.”
Jasper Schools Superintendent Robert Sparkman said he thought the calendar and the ETF should be considered separately by lawmakers.
“It is my understanding the start date issue is tied with the budget,” he said. “I would prefer they handle the budget alone.”
Sparkman said he is concerned the calendar issue would affect instructional time.
“I’m afraid it will open a can of worms,” he said. “It is problematic. You can’t take five minutes every day and expect that to make up for a day of instruction. It just doesn’t work that way.”
In the end, Sparkman said he would support the bill if it was the only way to secure teachers’ jobs.
“I support what keeps teachers in the classroom,” he said. “I think that can be done without this, but if this comes down as the only way, we need those teachers.”
Another education-based bill being considered by lawmakers this week would begin charter schools in Alabama.
Adkins said Alabama has no need for charter schools.
“I think charter schools can be a good thing, but not in Alabama,” he said. “They are designed for large metropolitan areas like New York City or Chicago. Some folks in the Legislature are taking a ‘fire, aim, ready’ approach to these things. We simply don’t need them.”
Sparkman said if the state is struggling to fund its current schools that the idea of charter schools shouldn’t even be considered.
“It’s simple. When we don’t have enough money to run what we have, we don’t need to add something else that would take away from the already limited funds,” Sparkman said. “When we can maintain what we’ve got, then it might be something to consider.”
Reed said he does not support charter schools within his district, which is made up of mostly Walker and Winston counties.
“I could see where charter schools might be beneficial in Birmingham, Huntsville or Montgomery, but we don’t need them here,” Reed said. “I might would vote for the bill if there was a clause that made it certain there wouldn’t be charter schools in my district.”
Adkins said he is concerned with the road legislators are taking when it comes to reforming education in the state.
“Education doesn’t need to be reformed. It needs to be transformed,” he said. “Education is caught in the middle of a political fight and that needs to change.”