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Hurst: Longer school summer could be set by constitutional amendment

School administrators say plan would shorten fall, Christmas breaks

School Buses

Students at Anniston Middle School load onto school buses Wednesday after school. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

A state lawmaker from Munford doubled down Wednesday on his plan to make the summer school break longer. 

Republican Rep. Steve Hurst said that he might propose a state constitutional amendment — not just a bill — to end the K-12 school year at Memorial Day and start school again after Labor Day.

“The people want to vote on it,” Hurst said. 

Hurst hasn’t yet filed any bills for the session that began last week, according to legislative records. But in recent weeks, educators have been abuzz about a bill that would set statewide dates for the summer break, adding weeks to kids’ time out of school. Hurst earlier this week said he intends to file just such a bill. 

School schedules are currently set at the local level, and most local school systems now plan to start the school year in early or mid-August. 

Hurst said the longer summer would give high school students a better chance to get jobs and build job skills. In comments Wednesday, he often referred to the hiring needs of construction contractors. He said paperwork associated with hiring minors cuts into an already-small window of time when students can work. 

“What you’ve got today is students who can’t get a job over the summer because contractors can’t really hire someone who’s available for just six weeks,” he said. 

Hurst’s bill has already caused some unease for local school administrators, who typically set their schedules for the next school year early in the spring semester. Anniston City Schools Superintendent Ray Hill said the school system has a 2020-21 calendar ready for school board approval, and hopes to see it pass by March. Still, Hill is already thinking how the school year might change under the new bill to meet the state-mandated 1,080 hours of instruction in the school year. 

“That would cut out some of our holidays,” he said. “Christmas break would be shorter. We’d have to change fall break and spring break.” 

Hill said there’s local reasoning behind some of the system’s breaks. For instance, the fall break, he said, is typically timed around the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway, which brings an increase in local traffic. 

In Jacksonville City Schools, officials try their best to match the schedule of Jacksonville State University, where many students’ parents work, said acting superintendent Mike Newell. Some of that schedule, such as a week-long Thanksgiving break, would likely have to go if the school year is shorter.

Newell said there are bigger concerns. 

“The longer students are out of school, the more effect the summer will have on their retention rate,” he said. 

Local educators often warn of “summer slump,” a decline in reading and math skills seen in kids over the summer, when they’re not doing school work regularly. 

At Anniston’s YMCA, where roughly 300 kids take part in summer programs, director Maggie Burn Owens said the staff will “roll with the punches” if the school schedule changes in coming weeks. She said change, if it comes late in the school year, could be a problem for parents, who will be making their summer child care plans soon. 

“There are parents who register for our program in March,” she noted. 

Teachers seem to be divided on the proposed change, said Angela Morgan, a local representative for the Alabama Education Association. 

“There’s a good debate going on,” she said. “I’ve talked to teachers and bus drivers who have different opinions, and it’s all based on their personal needs.”

The legislative session ends in mid-May, which means school systems may not know for sure about a proposed school-date change until near the end of the school year. 

If Hurst proposes the measure as an amendment, the matter would have to go before voters — probably no earlier than November.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.