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Missouri lawmaker proposes September-to-May school year

Updated: 2013-12-22T15:56:48Z

By CHRIS BLANK

The Associated Press

— School in August. Sound good, kids?

A proposal in Missouri would ensure schools don’t start until September and end before June. The bill also seeks to require students to spend more time in the classroom and participate in summer school if they do not perform up to snuff.

Legislation filed for the upcoming session would require districts make summer school attendance mandatory for students who score less than proficient on statewide tests. School districts also would need to complete their regular term between Sept. 1 and May 31 while the state’s minimum class time would increase from 1,044 hours to 1,085 hours. It would leave August for professional development and training.

If the bill becomes law, students may not celebrate for long. It could mean longer school days during the year.

Rep. Steve Cookson, chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said summer school would help reach students who are starting to fall behind and that less variance in school calendars makes sense as families move between communities.

“When we talk about students and their needs and living in a mobile society, that’s a benefit to have as uniform as possible within parameters – not dictate to them but have it within parameters,” said Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff.

School officials contend the legislation is too rigid, usurping too much local authority to determine when schools are in session. Missouri School Boards’ Association spokesman Brent Ghan said local boards now can account for issues particularly important within their communities, such as tourism. He said local officials should have the flexibility to schedule vacation times and teacher professional development days that suit their areas.

“One-size does not fit all when it comes to the school calendar across our state,” Ghan said.

Missouri’s 2014 legislative session starts Jan. 8. Lawmakers and education officials are expected to focus on struggling school districts.

Cookson, who was an educator and school administrator, said taking care of the students who are having trouble should help districts. He said districts can keep local control over summer school by ensuring each student is proficient.

“If we don’t have struggling school districts because we are addressing the needs of students that are struggling, then I think that’s a good thing,” Cookson said.

The school boards’ association said there is merit to the idea of increasing time spent in school and to summer school but that neither initiative would be free. Missouri’s funding formula used to distribute basic aid to school districts is about $600 million underfunded in the current year’s state operating budget.

“First things first here. We need to be fully funding the foundation formula before we start increasing the costs for local school districts,” Ghan said.

School calendar is HB1139. Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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