FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 24, 2001
AUSTIN, TX--Today the full Senate concurred with changes made to Senate Bill 108, the School Calendar Bill by state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) that redefines the issue of local control through creating awareness among the public that they have the right to help decide the school calendars in their own districts.
"I highly commend and thank Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), co-chair of the Public Education Committee, for his leadership that ensured passage of this bill in the House," said Sen. Lucio. "His commitment and dedication to education are exemplary."
The provisions of SB 108 are that schools can start no earlier than the week in which August 21 falls and that Sunday is designated the first day of the week. A waiver was added in the House Public Education Committee allowing school districts to opt out of the August 21 date by posting a notice in their local newspapers and holding a public hearing on the date.
"It is time for the people of Texas, particularly the parents, teachers and school property taxpayers, to know that they can and should be part of the process of deciding when schools should open their doors," said Sen. Lucio. "I voted for and support local control, but only if it means public control and not control by a school board or school administrator."
This issue is in its third legislative year (since 1997) and has been strongly encouraged by thousands of parents and teachers who have communicated in every possible way to Sen. Lucio that he not abandon his effort to return excessively early school calendars to more reasonable start dates. A group of thousands (15,000) of parents and teachers, Texans for a Traditional School Year headed by Ms. Tina Bruno, formed for the sole purpose of promoting true local control.
"This grassroots organization has been instrumental in helping pass this bill, as well as in educating people statewide that they can and should be involved in deciding what their school calendars should be," said Sen. Lucio. "I commend their lofty goals and valuable contribution to Texas families."
While some have argued that starting later in August will reduce the number of holidays given during the school year, others have expressed strong support for a more condensed school year with fewer interruptions.
"When you stretch out a school year from early August to May, with teachers returning to in service classes and to set up their classrooms in early July, you have the perfect recipe for burnout," said Sen. Lucio. "Teachers and children need a full summer break to rest from the stressful and demanding school year, and my bill offers them that."
Sen. Lucio was also contacted by many parents who are burdened with looking for intermittent daycare during the many breaks in the school year, which is not only difficult to find but more expensive. Childcare is easier to obtain and more affordable for a long stretch of time, plus communities, churches, organizations and even housing projects run summer programs for kids.
"I'm really concerned about latchkey children and about parents who must ask for time off from their jobs during the school year for the frequent breaks," explained Sen. Lucio.
Concern for migrant children, who number around 200,000 and are no longer concentrated just along the Border, became the focal point of this legislation. Sen. Lucio opposes denying them equal access to classroom instruction just because they return late in the fall from working up north with their parents.
"Comptroller Carole Rylander has estimated the loss in earnings to migrant families who return sooner than they must so that their children start school with their peers at $27 million a year," noted Sen. Lucio. "Migrant families, with some of the lowest incomes in the state, lose 13 percent of their earnings ($2,000 of $15,000 income) when they are forced to leave their jobs so early."
Despite the common occurrence of business entities supporting all types of legislation, Sen. Lucio has come under attack for the tourism's support of SB 108. "Seeing business and education working together is not only common, but beneficial," said the Senator. "When you take into account the many businesses who act as partners in education, I don't know why tourism has been singled out in relation to a bill affecting education."
Sen. Lucio, a business owner and a former educator himself, credits tourism for giving summer jobs to thousands of young people, many of them from low-income homes and others who are saving money for college. The Texas travel and tourism industry employed 470,000 people in Texas in 1999, who earned $10.6 billion. Many of these were teenagers.
"Critics of my bill want to see our young people gainfully employed, the economy thrive and property taxes reduced; yet they fail to see the part tourism, the state's third largest industry, plays in this role," explained Sen. Lucio. "Without tourism-generated taxes, each Texas household would have had to have paid $615.00 in additional taxes last year.
"Thousands of Texans have told the Texas Legislature that starting school the first week of August 5 and even the last week in July is not acceptable, and for the most part, my colleagues in both Chambers, as well as Gov. Rick Perry, are listening."
Note: The bill is now headed to the Governor for his signature.