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Lawmaker: Longer summer breaks would help workforce

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

An Alabama lawmaker says public schools should extend their summer breaks through Labor Day to help workforce development.

Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, said he’ll sponsor legislation to require school summer breaks run at least from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Currently, may systems end their year prior to Memorial Day, but start in early August. 

If Hurst’s proposal were in effect this year, students would have a 15-week break. 

He said the current summer breaks don’t give older students enough time to get summer jobs and work experience.

“What we need is for these kids to have an opportunity to get a job, make a little money for them and momma and daddy, and learn a work ethic and discipline,” Hurst said recently. 

Hurst points to reports that the state is facing a skilled worker shortage and Gov. Kay Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 newly certified or degreed workers. Hurst said he’s talked to business owners who say they don’t have time in the existing summer breaks to train student workers.

“It doesn’t give kids enough time for worker training,” he said. ““I’m just trying to get more workers in Alabama.” 

National Federation of Independent Business state director Rosemary Elebash agrees.

This year, she polled the organization’s about 6,000 members and they’d like longer summer breaks for potential hires.

“Our No. 1 issue, not just in Alabama but across the nation, is that we can’t find qualified workers,” Elebash said.

She said by the time paperwork and initial training is done, it’s nearly time for the students to return to school.

“We’re losing that opportunity for them to gain that experience,” Elebash said. “…This is a real workforce issue for us.” 

In the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, lawmakers said system could start no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day and end by the Friday before Memorial Day.

That legislation was supported largely by those who said an extended summer vacation would increase tourism on the Alabama coast and raise more tax money for the state education fund. But several north Alabama lawmakers opposed the measure, saying school systems should set their start and end dates.

Current law gives systems some flexibility in their days, requiring 180 full instructional days at six hours of instruction per day or 1,080 instructional hours over the course of the year.

Some school systems have said Hurst’s proposal would greatly extend their school day or drop some mid-year days off, but Hurst said they could get it done without significantly lengthening their days.

“We want them to have that right to adjust it, we just want more time in the summer months,” he said.

Hurst met with some school superintendents last week and he said conversations will continue before he files a bill this year.

Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of School Superintendents of Alabama, said it’s hard to comment on the proposal without seeing a bill.

“However, we believe the school calendar should be a local decision made by local board members and superintendents after input from their stakeholders,” he said. “ We met with (Hurst last week) and had a great conversation about some of his concerns.  We plan to gather some information and meet with him in the very near future.”

Hurst said he’s worked on this issue for two years and will continue to, even if it doesn’t get approved this year.

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