Naked City

Strayhorn: See You in September!

In her latest burst of staccato enthusiasm, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced last week an effort to restore public school start dates to the first week of September. Presenting a report issued by her agency ("Saving Summer: Lessons Learned"), Strayhorn argued that the widespread practice of beginning the school year in August costs Texans millions in utility payments, increased day-care expenses, and lost wages. "The benefits of stretching the school year have not been proved; what we do know – it's costing Texans $790 million annually," Strayhorn declared. "The school year is more than two weeks longer now than it was 50 years ago, but the number of instructional days is the same, or even fewer in some cases."

The single biggest component of that $790 million sticker price is an estimated $392 million in lost income to tourist industries. Other costs include school operations and utilities expenses (estimated at $184 million); lost income to students, teachers and staff, and migrant workers ($172 million); and child-care costs ($42 million). Most of these numbers are based on rather wobbly presumptions about how and when such expenses are incurred. But the tourist industries have been howling about early school-start dates since they became commonplace after the 1990 repeal of a state law mandating that the school year commence after Sept. 1. And advocates for migrant workers have likewise long pointed out that starting school before the end of the summer is a hardship for many families. Defenders of the earlier dates have mostly been district administrators and some teachers, who say the earlier dates give greater flexibility in scheduling training days and also allow for splitting the semesters during the winter holiday season, so that students can complete first-semester exams before the break.

Strayhorn argues that the school year can be compressed to allow September start dates without otherwise disrupting the schedule. "I renew my call for the Legislature to compress the school year and start school later," Strayhorn said. "A school year that begins after Labor Day is feasible. I will appoint a task force made up of teachers, administrators, and community and business leaders to explore alternatives to early school-start dates, lay out a plan that preserves necessary instructional school days, and examine the start-date waiver loophole process in existing law."

Look for a few more press conferences before the January start of the next Lege – and yet another family-friendly campaign issue.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2006!, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, school start dates, Saving Summer

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