GA lawmakers considering pushing back school start dates

WTOC Investigates: Extending Summer

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Georgia lawmakers are considering a change that would impact students across Georgia. A senate study committee has just been formed to look at the impacts of mandating schools start closer to Labor Day.

In a WTOC investigation, we found that this initiative is more about business than education. State lawmakers say businesses around the state become crippled as soon as schools start back. However, members of the study committee tell WTOC that students' best interest remain their top priority which is why they will spend the next two months weighing the costs and benefits of extending summer vacation.

A rather calm afternoon in Savannah in the latter months of summer is pretty typical for many businesses along River Street.

"It starts to get quite around the 2nd week of August,” said Cinnamon Bear employee Diane Mazurski.

As soon as students go back to school, Cinnamon Bear employees tell WTOC business drops about 30 percent.

"It takes enough of a hit to where we see it and we start cutting back on hours,” said Savannah Barnett.

According to state lawmakers this is just one example of a much bigger issue around the state of Georgia. Representative Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) is among those who is pushing to move school start dates closer to Labor Day.

"You've got places like Six Flags, White Water, Great Wolf Lodge and others where they not only lose their employee base - which is their summer school work - but they lose their clientele and basically roll up the sidewalk,” said Rep. Stephens.

Rep. Stephens introduced House Bill 936 during the last legislative session which said, “schools should not start prior to the 3rd week of August.” The bill died but the concept has gained momentum.

"Finally, the Senate is on-board. They are doing a study committee,” said Rep. Stephens.

That committee includes lawmakers, educators and tourism officials, including Savannah's Tourism Leadership Council CEO Michael Owens.

"We will meet in places all around Georgia with different school boards testifying to the committee. Those that are interested in both sides of the issue will have an opportunity in an open forum setting,” said Owens.

Owens tells WTOC that Savannah's tourism industry is hardly impacted compared to other places around the state. He says he doesn't have skin in the game when it comes to business but rather making sure this is the right decision for students.

“My primary concern is not the revenue aspect of it but it's the educational outcomes. Are kids better prepared for life when they get some experience? Are they better prepared for an educational platform if they've had a good break from the summer?” said Owens.

But pushing school start dates doesn't mean students will have more time off. Per Georgia law, a school year must be 180 days. So, delaying the start of school could potentially mean students don't get out until June. "So, are we going to see that impact on businesses at the beginning of the summer?" WTOC Investigator Reporter Elizabeth Rawlins asked Rep. Stephens. “Well that's a good question,” replied Rep. Stephens. So WTOC asked businesses.

“Does that mean you will have less business on the front end of the summer?” Asked Rawlins.

“I don't think so,” replied Cinnamon Bear employee Savannah Barnett.

Employees tell WTOC, their summer boost for business with families and children doesn't really start to pick up until July anyway. So, pushing summer break until Labor Day would only be a win-win for not only business but also families.

The committee’s first meeting is in Oct. 1 in Atlanta and will be holding a series of meetings around the state. There will be one in the Coastal Empire. The time and location has not yet been determined but as soon as we have more information, we will let you know.

You can view the Senate resolution by click here.

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