Bill would push Ohio schools to open after Labor Day

A bill calling for Ohio schools to begin the academic year after Labor Day had its second hearing before the Ohio House Education Committee last week.

Under House Bill 549, schools that want to open before Labor Day would need to take extra steps. The school board would have to hold a public hearing on the topic and then wait at least 30 days before voting on a resolution permitting schools to open earlier.

In the 2017-18 school year, Bethel Local Schools near Tipp City was the only one of 50 local districts to begin after Labor Day. Miamisburg and Jefferson Twp. started almost a month earlier on Aug. 9, while the weeks of Aug. 14 and Aug. 21 were the busiest starting dates.

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Trade groups representing travel, boating, campground and festival interests submitted testimony in favor of the bill last week. Melinda Huntley of the Ohio Travel Association said she supported the bill for numerous reasons, including better alignment of student schedules with businesses’ summer job needs, not holding school in the August heat, and more uniformity of schedules for extended family gatherings and vacations.

“Ohio voters want a longer summer break instead of a broken-up school year,” Huntley said, referring to a survey that her organization commissioned. “When asked specifically about their support of a bill making post-Labor Day the default, 66 percent of Ohioans were in favor.”

The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Steven Arndt, from the Lake Erie community of Port Clinton.

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Bryan Ralston of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association said the bill would give families more flexibility for summer vacation time together. But when Ralston testified about potential positive impact to Ohio’s tourism economy, Marilyn Slaby, vice chair of the House Education Committee, changed the focus.

“The important thing to me is that this committee is here to help the children in our schools,” Slaby said. “Don’t you think that children need this time, and whenever they start, the schools need to decide (that)?”

Supporters of the bill said schools could take fewer days off within the year, or add minutes to the school day, so that a post-Labor Day start could still line up with a roughly Memorial Day finish.

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State Rep. John Patterson, D-Copley, said schools have started gradually earlier and earlier because of their desire to put as many teaching days as possible before the annual state exams, in hopes of improving scores.

Legislators from both parties expressed concerns about the bill.

Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, said the switch would take Ohio K-12 schools out of alignment with Ohio universities, which run on an August to early May schedule. That could affect thousands of students taking College Credit Plus classes, as well as educators taking courses needed for certification.

Democrat Catherine Ingram suggested a longer summer break could lead students to forget more academic material, and Springfield Republican Kyle Koehler said unless all surrounding states aligned to the same schedule, the move might not make much difference in bringing out-of-state tourists to Ohio.

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Rep. Stephen Hambley, R-Brunswick, questioned why the state shouldn’t leave the issue in the hands of local school boards, arguing that if there was a real public outcry for a switch, locally elected leaders would respond.

House Education Committee Chair Andrew Brenner acknowledged the irony of the local control vs. state mandate approach, on the same day the committee considered Senate Bill 216, a “school board flexibility” bill.

“You saw this afternoon, we had one bill that I supported that would be, theoretically, a mandate, and another bill that would deregulate, so it’s a check and balancing act,” Brenner said.

Huntley said finding employees is the No. 1 challenge for businesses in Ohio’s tourism economy.

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“With workers returning to school earlier and earlier, businesses are cutting hours and shortening operating seasons,” she said. “The economic ramifications (are) harmful to business owners, other workers … and communities who depend on tax revenue.”

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