HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-Another school year is now officially underway in north Alabama, but it comes with some calendar controversy.
For the second year in a row, most local school systems are opening a few weeks later than their preferred early August start. It's all the result of a recently passed state law that prevents Alabama school systems from starting any earlier than two weeks before Labor Day, or ending past Memorial Day.
Proponents of the mandate argued the longer summer would lead to added tax revenue from increased tourism during the traditional summer vacation month of August. In recent years several Alabama school districts had steadily pushed back their start date to the beginning of August, roughly a month earlier than many other parts of the country. But critics of the law say the local custom of early start dates and fall break should return when the two-year-old law expires at the end of this school year.
"I'm of the mindset that these types of decisions should be made locally," said Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), who voted against the law when it was passed in 2012. "The silver lining in it is that it [calendar law] sunsets, this is the year it sunsets, it goes away...that of course is going to give us back the fall break, going to give us perhaps a longer Christmas than what we're going to have this school year, but again, the important thing is it gives back control to the local school boards."
Sen. Holtzclaw said promises of increased revenue from a longer summer break fell flat. He said he had not heard of any effort to extend the law past it's expiration date next spring.
"Quite frankly those numbers have yet to come to fruition, and some of my colleagues who supported the bill originally have since changed their position on it because of the lack of revenue."
Madison City School Superintendent Dee Fowler said he's optimistic Madison's school board will reinstate fall break, assuming the state mandate is not extended. Fowler said most parents he's talked to prefer the earlier August start date, which made fall break possible. Starting later forced school systems to axe fall break due to the calendar law's numerical requirement on instruction days.
"I think the biggest challenge that we've had is that there have been no breaks," said Fowler. "Historically, we like to work for nine weeks, take a break. Work for nine weeks, take a break...We're very excited to have autonomy, to have control of our own calendar again."
The school calendar law was primarily pushed by tourism officials from the Gulf Coast. A compromise proposal from Sen. Holtzclaw that would have made the law permanent but allow individual school systems to opt out fell apart earlier this year.