Our guest blogger is Isabel Owen, an education policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.Yesterday, the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee put the interests of the tourism industry ahead of the needs of students by voting to kill three bills that would allow school boards to set their own calendar. The bills would have overturned the so called Kings Dominion Law, named for the amusement park in Doswell, Virginia. The law currently prohibits schools from starting before Labor Day, in an effort to boost late season tourism revenue:
The action by the Senate Education and Health Committee followed testimony from a string of tourism representatives, who said that moving the first day of school before the holiday weekend would hurt the industry at a time when it could ill afford to lose revenue.
Putting the tourism industry ahead of the needs of schools is an obvious blow to students. Proponents of rolling back the law cite research showing that students who have more time in school do better on exams and are more likely to go to college. A long summer vacation is particularly detrimental to low-income children who don’t have access to engaging programming during the summer. Indeed, more than 1,000 schools nationwide have broken free from the traditional confines of the school schedule and lengthened the school year to incorporate more time for academics, enrichment and teacher planning.
Speaking at an event at the Center for American Progress last year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made clear that it is time for students to spend more time — not less — in school. “We know that far too many of our nation’s young people get to a certain point by June, thanks to their teachers hard work and commitment, and they come back in September further behind than when they left, and we just have to do something about it,” he said.
The issue is also one of governance. As Delegate Joe Morrissey (D) noted, the persons making the call about when schools should start should not be amusement park owners. “Who is going to make the decisions,” Morrissey asked. “I suggest that it not be Tweety bird or Bugs Bunny or Scooby Doo or Sponge Bob that makes those decisions. They ought not to be making education decisions in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Still, many in the state support the Kings Dominion Law. “I’m glad the Senate has done this,” Mayor Will Sessoms of Virginia Beach said of Thursday’s vote to ax the Senate version of the bill. “The main reason is because the economic impact it would have on this city.”
It’s a no brainer that kids will learn more in school than they will riding a rollercoaster. The legislators should focus on helping educators create — and implement — high-quality summer programs rather than caving to Tweety bird and the money hungry tourism industry.