The Legislature and Gov. Mike Parson sold out children’s education to Missouri’s tourism interests. Despite objections from school officials, Parson signed into law a bill that forces public schools to delay the start of school until no earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September, beginning in 2020.
Education decisions should be made locally based on the best learning outcomes for students. The calendar change threatens to hurt students across demographics, from low-income families who rely on school for nutritious meals to middle-class families burdened with additional child care costs.
The Legislature created this problem, so it must deal with the fallout from a short-sighted, state-mandated school calendar that removes the ability of districts to use their own discretion based on their unique needs. A simple modification allowing districts to appeal for calendar modifications would help.
Families already struggle to find affordable child care options in August, when most summer camps have wrapped up. Many school districts in the St. Louis area begin the week of Aug. 12. Paying for an additional two weeks of child care can cost hundreds of dollars. The governor and lawmakers demonstrated a lack of awareness with the realities faced by families with school-age children.
More than 33% of children in Missouri live in single-parent households, and 52% of public school children in the state are enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program. They are underserved by summer meal programs, which don’t necessarily provide transportation to serving sites.
For schools and families, the change is not as simple as shortening Christmas vacations and adding more days at the start of summer vacation. The earlier start time gives teachers more time to prepare students before standardized testing begins. Semester calendars will have to be adjusted to leapfrog over the Christmas break. Rather than beginning new course material in January, teachers will be rehashing material from before the break to combat learning loss after an extended break from school.
The change also could have ripple effects for students trying to earn college credit through advanced placement courses. In the 2017 school year, 26,701 Missouri students took a total of 44,429 AP exams. Only about 12.1% of Missouri public high school graduates who took an AP exam scored a passing grade of 3 or higher on the five-point scale. That ranks Missouri 43rd among states.
Missouri will be going against the trend of an increasing number of districts that begin in early August. In many charter schools and other public schools in parts of Indiana and Arizona, children head back to school in July. In Missouri, the needs of amusement park operators and lobbying groups for hotel and outdoor recreation operators outweighed kids’ welfare and the long-term interests of the state.
The Legislature didn’t just set the school calendar back, they set learning back.