“Why do Georgia schools start so early?”
It’s a commonly asked question. Several states have schools that start before Labor Day. But most Georgia schools start at the beginning of August or end of July. Schools typically end the year in late May, meaning the summer break may last about two months.
However, Georgia schools’ short summers could end soon. A state Senate committee tasked with examining the issue has issued a report recommending schools start no more than seven to 10 days before Labor Day, and end on or around June 1.
“We’re not telling the school boards back home that they have to go to school certain dates of the year, but what we would recommend is that you not start 10 days before Labor Day, and that you would be out before June 1,” said committee chair Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega.
The committee also recommended implementing guardrails to preserve districts’ local control. At the same time, it has proposed making calendars congruent across the state so that students would have better summer employment opportunities.
The committee also noted inconsistent school calendars negatively affect Georgia’s tourism and hospitality industries. Longer summers would let businesses that rely on tourism stay open longer.
However, some school districts have already gone through extensive processes to arrive at their current school calendars.
In 2013, The Cobb County School District sought community input on different versions of its calendar. The school board agreed on a “balanced” calendar, with earlier start and end dates. The board has approved calendars through the 2020-2021 school year. This year, the district started school Aug. 1 and will end the year May 22.
Gretchen Walton, the compliance and legislative affairs officer for the Cobb County School District, told the committee at a December meeting the process took a lot of work.
“When our elected officials consider our school calendar, they take community input, they take business input, they certainly take the input from the leaders in the school district, our teachers,” she said.
Walton went on to say the school district is the largest employer in Cobb County, with 17,907 employees. Over 70 percent of them, she said, live in the county. Cobb is the state’s third-largest school system, serving almost 113,000 students.
“Our teachers overwhelmingly, in a survey, said they want the calendar we now have,” Walton said.
One of the Cobb County School District’s legislative priorities is for school calendars to remain under control of local districts. It was a common concern among educators and advocates who testified before the committee.
However, Gooch said lawmakers would scrutinize any legislation resulting from the committee’s report.
“I want to hear more from the people in the communities that we represent,” he said. “I really believe this is something that should be vetted throughout our state. We should have more parental involvement and engagement on it. We shouldn’t just jump into it on Day One and try to push a bill through the session.”