Education

NC lawmakers shelve changes to year-round schools for now

Students change classes Thursday, June 23, 2016 at Rand Road Elementary School in Garner. Rand Road is among dozens of single-track year-round schools in the state that won’t be forced to switch to a traditional calendar after legislative leaders dropped a budget provision that mandated that multi-track schools are the only ones allowed under state law.
Students change classes Thursday, June 23, 2016 at Rand Road Elementary School in Garner. Rand Road is among dozens of single-track year-round schools in the state that won’t be forced to switch to a traditional calendar after legislative leaders dropped a budget provision that mandated that multi-track schools are the only ones allowed under state law. tlong@newsobserver.com

A state proposal that could have forced dozens of year-round schools to switch to a traditional calendar this summer is dead for now, but the tourism industry isn’t giving up on the issue.

The state budget compromise announced Monday doesn’t include wording from the Senate budget that said the only year-round schools allowed would be multi-track schools where students are split into four rotating groups. Families at single-track year-round schools, in which students are all on the same schedule, had lobbied to save their calendar against changes suggested by tourism representatives who want schools to have long summer breaks.

“We just took everything out because there was so much confusion,” Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca said Tuesday. “This was something that needs to be looked at in-depth in the long session.”

Families at North Carolina’s 88 single-track schools are cheering that their schools don’t have to switch calendars just weeks before the first day of classes. In the Triangle, single-track schools are in Wake, Durham, Johnston and Orange counties.

“I’m hopeful they realize that year-round schools are important to families in North Carolina,” said Sonya Sutton, incoming PTA president at Hillsborough Elementary, a single-track school in Orange County. “I’m hoping it won’t be an issue again.”

Jim Hobbs, director emeritus of the Hospitality Alliance of North Carolina, said Tuesday the potential limitations on single-track year-round schools are not a dead issue. Hobbs is trying to get lawmakers to modify the school calendar law to match the definition the state Department of Public Instruction previously used, which said year-round schools are multi-track.

But with lawmakers trying to wrap up the legislative session this week, Hobbs said he asked that the changes be withdrawn from consideration this year.

“It will be, I expect, that it will come up again in the long session in 2017,” Hobbs said. “But that depends on whether the parents, teachers, tourism industry and summer camps feel like it’s an important issue.”

Most families send their children to traditional-calendar schools, which have summer vacations of two months or more. But in year-round schools, summer break is shortened so students typically have three-week breaks after every nine weeks of classes.

In 2004, the state legislature exempted year-round schools when it passed a law preventing traditional-calendar schools from starting before late August and ending after mid-June.

Legislators also exempted a type of year-round schedule called modified-calendar schools but said no more could be added. But the calendar law doesn’t define what are considered year-round or modified-calendar schools.

Although Apodaca had inserted the year-round wording into the Senate budget, the Henderson County Republican said he would not support any effort to prohibit single-track schools. But Apodaca won’t be returning for next year’s legislative session.

If legislators revisit the issue next year, Hobbs plans to present a study looking at the academic performance of single-track year-round schools. Supporters say year-round schools are better academically because students forget less when the summer breaks are shorter.

“If our own study shows that these modified calendars are producing superior results, we’ll tell you that,” Hobbs said. “If it doesn’t, we’ll show you that.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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