The Senate study committee tasked with evaluating school calendars held its first meeting Tuesday afternoon. It is considering a statewide start date after Labor Day, though according to Georgia Department of Education data, most of Georgia’s 180 school systems start in August.
Senator Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, leads the committee that has aggravated advocates of local control and has also been criticized for being dominated by members from the tourism industry. In 2018, he sponsored State Resolution 1068 to create the committee and was appointed chairman by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Committee members are Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, Kelsey Moore, Georgia Travel Association, Camila Knowles, Cornerstone Government Affairs, Michael Owens, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Grier Todd, Lake Lanier Islands Resort, Jay Markwalter, Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureau, Kevin Langston, Georgia Department of Economic Development, and Scott Johnson, State Board of Education.
Gooch shared about working on the family chicken farm during summers as a child.
“Obviously over the last 30 or 40 years, those calendars have changed with other needs that we’ll probably get into,” he said. “I’m interested to hear a discussion, ask questions as to why we continue to see our school calendar close in more and more in the middle of summer.”
Sen. Dugan is chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee and has several family members who are teachers.
“I’m looking forward to an explanation of how we got from where we were to where we are. Is it the best way to do it…I look at it from the perspective of it costs a lot more to air condition a school than heat a school. July and August are hot,” he said.
Committee members also cited lack of air conditioning on buses, the heat at football games, August vacations and summer jobs as concerns about the early start dates. The need for schools to plan around testing windows was addressed as one of the reasons the start of the school year has moved back over time.
“I’ll be completely frank and honest with you…I think the education community, generally speaking, anytime we talk about something we’re interested in, their instant reaction is ‘Don’t tell us what to do.’ Maybe there is a good reason for that, but I don’t know that local control is the answer in every educational issue,” said Sen. Hill.
Grier Todd, COO of Lake Lanier Islands Resorts, said they hire 600-700 seasonal employees every year, many of whom are high school students who need to earn money for school in the summer.
Matt Cardoza and Allan Meyer, assistant directors of policy at the Georgia DOE, said the state does not have control over local calendars, but they did present data on start and end dates across the state over the past decade. They also said the Georgia DOE supports calendars remaining under local control so that they can take the needs of the community into account, citing Richmond County’s habit of planning Spring Break around the Masters Tournament as an example.
Representatives from the Georgia PTA, Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) also addressed the committee and asked for control to be left in the hands of the local communities.
“What is good for Savannah may not be good for the children in Atlanta,” said President of GAE Charlotte Booker, who spent 30 years in the classroom.
Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, spoke to the committee about the benefits of starting in early August, particularly the extra breaks in September and February. She said those breaks improve teacher attendance, stress, retention and morale.
The next meeting has not yet been scheduled, but the committee intends to report its findings in December.