Study adds to debate over bill to push back start of school

LEXINGTON (AP) — Supporters of legislation to push back the opening date for many Kentucky school districts are pointing to a study claiming the early return to school costs the state millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

The travel industry commissioned the study to support a bill that would prevent school districts from starting classes before late August, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Many districts resume school in early August, cutting nearly of month of potential business for the travel industry.

Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, is sponsoring the bill, which would set the opening date for schools no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

The study showed that the drop in tourism from July to August in 2014 cost the state more than $432 million in lost business.

The study was carried out for the Kentucky Marina Association and Kentucky Travel Industry Association. It showed that nearly 6,000 tourism jobs ended in August and that more than $45 million in local and state tax revenue was lost due to the decline in tourism business.

The associations attribute the major drop in tourism in August to the early opening of Kentucky’s public schools, a news release said.

“Kentucky tourism drops immediately and sharply upon the opening of schools. What is a peak in July becomes a cliff in August. This study documents what we already know about that cliff,” said Kentucky Travel Industry Association Travel President & CEO Hank Phillips.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said he anticipates that committee will hear the bill on Thursday.

Some groups are opposed to the legislation.

“We oppose Senate Bill 50 because it takes away from school districts the flexibility to set their own dates for starting school,” said Kentucky Education Association spokesman Charles Main.

Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, said: “We believe that local communities, through their board members, parents and teachers, should continue to make decisions about the school calendar that reflect the will of their community, as they have always done. Any community that wants to start school in late August can certainly do so now. I have never had a school leader in Kentucky suggest to me that the legislature should mandate when any school district can start its year for students.”

The bill would allow school districts to request waivers based on their history of closing due to winter weather, and it would exempt districts with year-round calendars, according to Girdler. He said starting school later also saves cooling costs for schools.

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