5The idea of public education has been around about as long as our nation has, but it really took root around the 1830s. That education might be good for most people and that an educated workforce is a plus for everyone prompted the North Carolina General Assembly to begin funding public schools with tax dollars in 1901. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
Our traditional school calendar, generally thought of as 9 months on and 3 months off, also dates from the early days of public education. Children, even little ones, were needed to work on America’s farms, so schools operated fall, winter, and spring, with summers off for tending fields and harvesting crops. Other nations use similar schedules for the same reason.
But how many kiddos do you know who work the fields in this era of computer driven tractors? I cannot think of a single one.
That reality, however, has not deterred the tourism industry in North Carolina. Two decades ago, tourism interests including various summer camps, strong-armed the General Assembly into codifying the public school year to start no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26th and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11th.
Tourism officials understandably wanted as much family vacation time as possible. They got legislators to buy into the notion that a long summer without school trumps the need for North Carolina’s public school students to have more classroom time to be competitive with students from other nations, many of them up and coming and outpacing the United States’ educational achievement levels.
The legislatively mandated school calendar has not worked.
One size fits all remains a failure as more and more school districts opt out, largely because they cannot make its constraints work for their systems. Year round schools, charters, early colleges, and private institutions are exempt from the calendar law, but traditional public schools, the majority of schools in our state, have struggled to schedule classes, work days, holidays, and other educational obligations within the narrow time frame imposed by the General Assembly.
Now, one quarter of our state’s 115 public school systems are in open revolt. A Superior Court Judge has weighed in, saying that Carteret County has illegally set its own calendar. It remains to be seen how Carteret or the other 28 systems that have set their own schedules will react.
Thus far Cumberland County Schools have maintained the traditional, legislatively mandated calendar with some schedule juggling, but some of our neighbors no longer comply. Harnett, Lee and Sampson County schools have adopted their own calendars, as have Clinton City Schools.
The General Assembly is nearing adjournment, at least theoretically, and will return to Raleigh early next year for its long session, which will take up much new legislation. Near the top of the list should be the failed and “bailed” school calendar bill. It has not worked for many counties.
The rationale for it, child labor, is no longer operative, and it is not a good look for a growing percentage of the state’s school systems to flaunt state law openly.
As Don Phipps, Superintendent of the Caldwell County Schools recently told the State Board of Education, “Local boards of education should be allowed to choose the best start dates for the school systems they represent.”
Hear! Hear!

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