TEA offers options for schools considering longer school year

As part of its school finance overhaul, the 86th Legislature last year provided a funding incentive for schools to extend their school calendar for up to 30 days beyond the required minimum operation time. Education Code sec. 25.081(a) requires school districts to operate for at least 75,600 minutes, and districts commonly adopt a 180-day calendar to meet this requirement.

As enacted by HB 3 by Huberty, Education Code sec. 48.0051 provides half-day formula funding for districts and charter schools that want to add up to 30 days of half-day instruction for students in prekindergarten through grade 5. To qualify for the funding, districts must provide the required minimum minutes over the course of at least 180 days of instruction.

The new law states that students may not be required to attend school for any extra instructional days added under the funding incentive.

Under the new law, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) must assist school districts and open-enrollment charter schools in qualifying for the funding. As part of its ongoing video series on HB 3, the agency presents options for campuses to extend their school year based on the school’s goals for the extra days.

TEA advises local school leaders to first decide on their goals, which could include mitigating the drop in student achievement over the summer months known as the “summer slide,” providing shorter, intermittent breaks to allow teachers to work with struggling students, or building non-instructional time into each school day for student recess and teacher planning.

In the video, the agency outlines three possible options for revising a traditional school calendar, including:

  • using a voluntary summer program of up to 30 days to target remediation and enrichment to better prepare students for the upcoming school year and help families save money on child care costs;
  • creating an intersessional calendar with intermittent breaks placed strategically throughout the year during which certain students could receive targeted remediation and a shorter summer break that would minimize the summer slide risk for all students; and
  • redesigning the school day and extending the school year into the summer to provide more non-instructional time each day for additional student recess and enrichment (art, music, physical education) and more teacher planning time.

TEA says in the video that research shows that a full-year redesign will lead to greater student achievement by offering elementary students more “brain breaks” and teachers more time for collaboration and curriculum development.

The agency is offering $5 million in planning grants for schools wanting to extend their school calendars. Awards of up to $125,000 will be made this spring to help districts fund a project manager to plan for a redesign and build family support for calendar changes, TEA says. Districts that receive those grants could receive an additional $25,000 this fall to implement their revised calendars.

Districts are encouraged to test calendar revisions at selected campuses or try different options at several campuses. The requirement that districts start their academic calendar on the fourth Monday of August remains, although many districts have voided this requirement by organizing as districts of innovation.

Supporters of extending the school year say that adding days to the school year would reduce the drop in student achievement levels that often happens during the summer break, especially for lower income students who may not have the opportunity to attend camps and other summer activities that provide learning opportunities. Supporters say the funding for additional school days could be used to increase teacher pay and provide more instructional time to cover the required learning standards.

Critics of extending the school year say that adding days to the school year would interrupt the traditional summer break, which is an important time for children to rejuvenate and for families to reconnect and go on vacation. Some children will lose access to other important learning opportunities through traditional summer activities outside of school, critics say, and summer camps, tourism, and related industries could be affected.

By Janet Elliott

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