House Votes to Push Schools Toward Uniform School Opening Date

The House has voted to push public schools toward beginning their school year no later than the fourth Monday in August, but only after more than 20 counties were excluded from the bill’s provisions.
As passed by the Senate earlier, SB1471 would require that schools open no later than the second Monday in August in 2012, the third Monday in August in 2013 and the fourth Monday in August in 2014.
But the House piled on amendments exempting various counties at the urging of legislators who said they acted at the request of school boards in their home counties.
Backers of the bill warned the multiple exemptions could violate provisions of the state constitution, but those pushing the amendments – with one exception – apparently accepted arguments that each legislator should decide matters impacting only his or her county.
Reps. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, acted as lead spokesman for the bill, contending it would benefit parents and students by assuring summer vacation time is preserved and businesses by assuring that students are available to work at summer jobs.
Montgomery said a University of Tennessee poll found that 71 percent of Tennesseans think schools now start too early. He also said schools will save money by not having to pay for cooling during August, the most expensive month for air conditioning.
The move to exclude multiple counties, Montgomery said, “just blows my mind.”
The bill passed 70-23, with many of those who exempted their own counties out still supporting the amended version.
One of those was Casada, who was criticized by Democrats for removing Williamson County after earlier this year sponsoring a bill to have the Legislature override a Nashville City ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The only opt-out amendment that was rejected came from Democratic Rep. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville. It was defeated after Republican Rep. Jim Gotto, also of Nashville, objected to Gilmore’s move.
The bill allows school systems that miss an average of 10 school days or more for a five-year period to seek a waiver from the law from the Department of Education.
The measure now returns to the Senate, which must decide whether to go along with the multiple amendments.
Among East Tennessee counties amended out of the bill were Blount, Hamblen, Johnson, Carter, Loudon, Monroe and McMinn. Memphis City Schools, the state’s largest system, was also excluded on motion of Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis.

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