Our guest blogger is Alexandra Scheeler, a special assistant for K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Back to school? Not so fast, says the Alabama state tourism industry.
While late August is usually a time for kids to return to the classroom, Alabama tourist officials see it as prime time for families to spend more money at beaches, amusement parks, and resorts.
Until recently, the Alabama State Legislature valued children’s education over tourism dollars, and wisely allowed school districts to set their own start dates with students’ interests in mind. Now, thanks to a successful industry lobbying effort, it seems Alabama has realigned its priorities and declared tourism more important than student learning.
In May of this year, the Republican-controlled Alabama state legislature passed the misleadingly-titled Flexible School Calendar Act. The bill passed through two committees: Education Policy and Tourism and Marketing — a brazen declaration of the lobbyists’ influence.
The Act mandates that all Alabama schools start no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day and end no later than Memorial Day. Tourism officials and legislators who support the bill claim that starting schools 11 days later could bring an additional $330 million total to the tourism industry, which would translate into roughly $25 million in tax revenue.
Dictating a shorter school calendar will have a negative impact on student achievement, particularly for low-income children. Studies have demonstrated time and time again the problem of “summer learning loss.” Away from the stimulating academic environment of the classroom, low-income students lose an average of two months of reading skills. This only widens the achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students, who spend their summers taking part in enriching — and expensive — opportunities like tutoring and educational camps.
For households with single parents or two working parents, an additional two weeks of summer can be a burden, not a blessing. Parents either have to find money within already-tight budgets for daycare or camps. In some cases, children may go unsupervised, which Dr. Aaron Milner, superintendent of Alabama’s Enterprise City Schools, believes could be particularly harmful for “at-risk” students.
There’s also the problem of nutrition. Alabama school superintendents have voiced concerns over the impact a shortened school year may have on child nutrition. This is particularly important in a state like Alabama, where 58 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch.
Moreover, it looks like the promised $25 million in tax revenues will never materialize. Alabama’s Legislative Fiscal Office interim director, Norris Green, told The Birmingham News that his office “can’t identify extra money because of that bill.” In fact, last week, two Republican state legislators announced they were pre-filing a bill that creates an opt-out for schools, citing the lack of promised tax revenue.
So while the Alabama legislature mulls whether or not the state’s tourism industry will generate enough revenue, its students — the future of the state’s economy — suffer.