RALEIGH - Despite concerns raised by tourism supporters, state lawmakers moved a step closer Tuesday toward giving North Carolina’s public schools more flexibility on when they can start their school year.
The House Education Committee backed a bill Tuesday that would allow any school district to start earlier in August to match the calendar used by its local community college. The committee backed another bill that would let school districts in 22 counties pilot starting the school year earlier in August to see how it would affect the tourism industry.
“We contribute about 56 to 57 percent of our budget every year to education,” Rep. Harry Warren, a Rowan County Republican, said Tuesday. “It makes absolutely no sense why we wouldn’t want to take every possible step to achieve the highest rate on return on that investment that we can, and something as simple as allowing schools to start as early as Aug. 10th seems like a pretty reasonable request.”
But Rep. Frank Iler, a Brunswick County Republican, called the bills an effort to take away the tourism season.
Both bills will go the House Rules Committee. But even if they get approved by the House, it’s unclear whether the Senate will consider the legislation. The Senate didn’t act on similar bills passed by the House in 2017.
The school calendar law was passed by the General Assembly in 2004 at the request of the tourism industry and some parents. These groups were concerned about how the school year was starting earlier and earlier in August, cutting into summer vacation time.
School officials have complained that the calendar law limits their ability to make up time lost due to snow and other weather emergencies. They also say that starting in late August hurts the ability of high school students to take community college courses and prevents students from taking fall semester final exams before winter break.
So far this session, 52 school calendar bills have been filed requesting flexibility for 86 of the state’s 115 school districts. Rep. Kevin Corbin, a Macon County Republican, said school calendars should be a local decision.
“I’m a local government guy,” said Corbin, a former school board member. “There are very few decisions that aren’t better made at the local level than they are from Raleigh or Washington.”
The Education Committee backed House Bill 79, which would let districts link their calendars with those used at community colleges. Legislative staff said that would typically mean school districts could start around Aug. 15.
“We’re not throwing the doors wide open,” said Rep, Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “We’re not dictating a policy. What we are is encouraging our public schools and our local community colleges to work together.’
The committee also endorsed House Bill 117, which would set up a three-year pilot program in which select districts could start as early as Aug. 10 and end by June 11. Warren, a primary sponsor of the bill, said the 22 counties eligible for the program, represent the geographic, economic and social diversity of the state.
Louise Lee, president of Save Our Summers, a group that lobbied for the creation of the school calendar law, warned lawmakers to expect a backlash if they push ahead with either bills.