The Senate on Tuesday sent back to the House a bill that would prohibit school districts from starting school any earlier than the third week in August. The House wanted school to start even later – no earlier than the fourth week in August.
The House will either agree to the change or ask for conference with the Senate to work out a compromise. The best course would be to do nothing and let the bill die.
The Legislature has no business dictating to local school boards when school should start, especially when there’s no compelling educational rationale. In fact, there’s no educational rationale at all – it’s all about tourism, the desires of the Gulf Coast tourism industry in particular.
Longer summers for family vacations, Coast interests have insisted for several years, means more dollars spent in the state. They’ve been pressuring the Legislature to change the school start dates that, in Tupelo, Lee County and most of Northeast Mississippi, now come in early August.
It may or may not be true that a later school start would mean more tourism money spent, but regardless, it’s no way to determine a school calendar. That’s best left up to local school boards to decide based on local needs.
The proposal wouldn’t affect the number of school days; the minimum would stay at 180. School would just go longer on the other end of the calendar.
But Mississippi and the rest of the country need to be discussing a longer school year with fewer breaks if we’re to regain our educational edge. The countries where students are outperforming ours generally have both longer school days and longer school years than we do. The amount of time spent in school and the knowledge absorbed are directly correlated.
The long summer break – even shortened from what it used to be – is an educational challenge since retention of what was learned from the end of the school year to the beginning of the next is hard for most students.
Building the school year around what tourism interests – and yes, probably a lot of parents – prefer simply denies the necessity of thinking of the school year in a different way. If, that is, educational competitiveness with the rest of the world is a priority.
The most basic argument against lawmakers dictating when the school can start is this: It’s not their job.
And that should be sufficient.