Education

Summer break could stretch longer for Kentucky’s students under a bill that offers an incentive for school districts to voluntarily push back the start of classes to late August.

The school calendar measure picked up steam Thursday when it won Senate passage on a 33-1 vote, just hours after emerging from the Senate Education Committee.

“There are good economic and educational quality reasons” to pass the legislation, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, its lead sponsor.

Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the trend toward earlier school start dates has been a drain on the state’s tourism sector. Time that Kentucky families could spend at lakes and other destinations is cut short in late summer by many school districts resuming classes in early August, he said.

Districts absorb higher energy costs to cool schools during some of the hottest days of the year, Thayer said. And the scorching temperatures can affect student achievement, he said.

“I don’t think it is good for our kids to be in school during the hottest month of the year,” he said during the committee hearing. “I don’t think they learn as well.”

The legislation would offer an incentive to districts choosing to delay the start of a new school year to at least the Monday closest to Aug. 26 — essentially the week before Labor Day.

Such districts would operate under a “variable student instructional year.”

As a result, they would not have to fulfill a requirement to have at least 170 instructional days per school year. Those districts, however, would still have to meet the state-mandated minimum of 1,062 hours of instructional time.

Under the bill, the incentive would be offered starting with the 2018-19 school year.

Thayer said the variable calendar would be purely optional for districts.

“This is the ultimate in local control,” he said.

Thayer said he didn’t know how many districts would try the later start date but predicted it would appeal to some, especially in areas where tourism is a big part of the economy.

“I do think that once a couple of school districts try it, it will be successful enough that others will follow,” he said in an interview after the Senate vote.

Under the measure, each local school board would appoint a calendar committee to make nonbinding recommendations to the board and superintendent.

The committee, which would gather community input, would include school officials, teachers, parents and two community representatives with business or tourism ties.

Thayer’s bill heads now to the House. Last year, a similar measure passed the GOP-led Senate but died in the House, which was then controlled by Democrats.

Republicans are now in control of the House. Speaker Jeff Hoover told reporters Thursday that he hasn’t reviewed this year’s bill but said he likes that it would be voluntary.