Postcards from the edge: The tourism industry rescues our schools ... maybe
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
May 02, 2012 | 2151 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For years, Alabama’s tourism industry has pushed for a later starting date and an earlier ending date for public schools.

Tourism officials argue that starting school in early August or ending school after Memorial Day takes two to three vacation weeks off the table, costing the tourism industry and the state a lot of money.

What tourism wants is for the state Legislature to pass an act that would a dictate starting date no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day or Aug. 17, whichever is earlier, and the ending date no later than the Friday before Memorial Day.

One version of this “school start bill” has passed the House and is waiting for the Senate to act.

The state superintendents’ association has opposed such legislation because it takes away the scheduling flexibility that local schools need to deal with their particular needs. Also standing in the way of this bill is the state’s mandatory 180-day school year.

However, supporters of the “school start bill” point out that the legislation gives schools the flexibility to meet the 180-day requirement by having students attend fewer days so long as they attend the same number of hours, thus taking away one type of flexibility but replacing it with another.

It looked like it would be a battle royal between the two sides — until the proposed education budget with its drastic loss of teaching jobs began making the rounds.

Faced with the need to cut costs, supporters of the bill pointed out that by reducing the number of days but maintaining the number of hours, schools would save operating costs — transportation and the like.

That got folks got interested.

Then came the best part. Pass the “school start bill” and the schools will get more revenue, but the Legislature won’t have to raise taxes.

What could be better?

Under the Canfield Budget Act, which was passed last year, the amount of money the Legislature can spend is based on the previous year’s revenue; what is left over goes to rebuilding the rainy day reserve fund. Revenue was down last year, so the Legislature can’t allocate more money for schools, even though budget estimates for next year are improving.

However, the Canfield Act has a loophole. The Legislature can spend more money than last year if that money comes from new revenue sources.

Of course, no one expected any new revenue sources because the governor and most of the Republican majority have said there will be no new taxes.

But, it is being pointed out, tourism revenue from the additional weeks of vacation under the “school start bill” is new revenue, so it will go to the schools.

Well, that’s different.

The superintendents’ association is rethinking its position because if this bill passes and the money comes in this summer, Eric Mackey, the association’s director, has said “we’re pretty confident that every teacher’s job can be saved.”

Now it looks like the “school start bill” will pass, teacher jobs will be saved, and the tourism industry will get what it has wanted all along.

Will this improve education? It is obvious that laying off teachers will not help our children or our economy. And since the only way the Legislature will find new revenue is to stumble across it, apparently this is the best we can do.
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