Austin ISD recently voted to become a district of innovation, or DOI, and of the four exemptions it has elected to adopt as part of its DOI plan, one is the change to the first and last day of instruction. Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, is seeking to remove this exemption, which, according to a recent Community Impact Newspaper DOI analysis, is the most sought-after exemption by districts seeking DOI status.
According to Jennifer Pace, principal of Southwest Austin's Joslin Elementary School and a member of AISD's Innovation District Advisory Committee, adjusting the first and last days of instruction would allot teachers additional days of planning and preparation at the start of the school year, allowing for flexibility in determining the last day of school. Without this innovation, districts are prohibited under Texas law from beginning the school year prior to the fourth Monday in August. Pace said flexibility in the calendar would also enable breaks to be strategically designed to fall after grading periods.
Krause's bill would allow districts that do not operate year-round to start no earlier than the Tuesday following Labor Day and not end until after the Friday before Memorial Day or May 15.
Members of the travel, camp and entertainment industries came out in support of the bill, saying that summertime activities provide jobs, additional education for children and extra revenue.
At a Tuesday morning House Public Education Committee hearing, Jim Brothers, the director of marketing for Six Flags Over Texas, said his company employs more than 3,000 people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with 857 of those being college students who use their summer income for college tuition.
He said having a consistent schedule with a longer period for summer, extending past Labor Day, represents millions in revenue for Six Flags and all ancillary businesses, including hotels.
Cody Mauldin, a year-round director for Camp Olympia, said his camp services 1,300 students from across the state each summer. By making a uniform start date, it makes it easier on camps to set schedules for campers.
Mauldin said his camp is just one of 558 youth camps licensed by the Department of State Health Services that would be affected by the bill.
"Having predictable start and school end dates across districts ... it creates unpredictable calendars," Mauldin said.
School districts testifying against the legislation, include San Antonio ISD, a district that plans to move its start date to Aug. 14 this upcoming year, prior to the Sept. 5 start date proposed by Krause's bill.
Rolinda Schmidt, a Texas Association of School Boards board member, said the DOI exemption allows school districts to create more instructional time to prepare students for state exams.
The TASB is a voluntary, nonprofit coalition of school boards representing all 1,030 school boards across the state.
Charter schools have the ability to set their own start and end dates, independent of what is mandated by the state Legislature.
For that reason, Monty Exter, an Association of Texas Professional Educators lobbyist, said the Legislature should decide whether this extra instructional time is valuable and should extend to all public school districts—both charters and traditional public school districts—or not important and should not be extended to either.
The ATPE is the largest independent educator's association in the U.S. It represents educators, paraprofessionals, administrators and all public education employees.
The bill was left pending in committee Tuesday morning.