RALEIGH — A proposed pilot program making its way through the North Carolina legislature would allow Bladen County and 19 other counties the flexibility to start the school year earlier while shortening the summer vacation for students.
The proposal is an effort to gather information on whether shifting the calendar can help improve test scores and if shortening summer vacation will hurt the state’s tourism industry.
House Bill 389, which passed 104-6 in the state House, would authorize the 20 school systems to begin the academic year two weeks earlier in August beginning in either 2018 or 2019. The state Board of Education and N.C. Department of Commerce would then study the academic and economic effects and after three years report the findings to the legislature.
Currently, North Carolina schools can start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. Charter schools and year-round schools are exempted.
School districts have been trying to modify or repeal the school calendar law since it passed in 2004. School officials cite issues such as how the late August start means high school students are taking standardized tests after Christmas break on material they study the semester before. The new calendar would would shift that testing back before the break.
There is also a belief that the shorter summer will mean students will have retained more from their previous year when school begins again.
“I think it’s a good study, a positive, especially if students can take exams prior to their Christmas break,” Rep. Charles Graham said. “They can take those exams when it is fresh in their minds. I just think it’s a better use of the calendar.”
Graham, a retired educator, was a co-sponsor of the bill alongside Republican Rep. Brenden Jones, who represents part of Bladen County.
The program would also attempt to more closely align the calendars of schools with that of community colleges and universities.
Previous efforts to adjust the calendar in such a way were opposed by private groups backed by the tourism industry. Proponents of the bill believe the study would prove there is no significant harmful effect.
“Such research would provide irrefutable evidence of individual communities that would not be economically harmed by school calendar flexibility and those communities where education advantages outweigh negative economic impacts,” House Bill 389 reads.
“I think it will be an adjustment for for the tourism industry, but after the first year I think they will be fine,” Graham said.
If the bill becomes law, it does not demand that the 20 selected counties take part. If a county chooses not to participate, it would be removed and replaced by another to give an overall representation of “the geographic, economic, and social diversity of the state.”
House Bill 389 passed the House in April and now sits in the Senate Rules Committee.