HB 191: Tourism vs. Teaching

"Empty Classroom" by flickr user Max Klingensmith

A bill scheduled for a hearing in this week’s House Education Committee meeting would make significant changes to Ohio school districts’ school calendars.

House Bill 191 was introduced in early April of this year by State Representatives Bill Hayes and Bill Patmon and would change the length of the school year. It would switch how the state measures the minimum amount of instructional time from days to hours, simultaneously lengthening and shortening the school year.

Currently, Ohio law requires school districts to provide 182 days of instruction to students, which equates to 910 hours for elementary students and 1,001 hours for middle and high school students. The requirements set forth in HB 191 would lengthen the school year by requiring school districts to add 50 more hours of instruction for elementary, middle and high school students.

Conversely, HB 191 would shorten the number of days in the school year by prohibiting schools from holding classes before Labor Day and requiring them to end before Memorial Day. This would increase the length of summer break and could affect students’ summer learning loss. The legislation does exempt summer school and year-round schools from the start and end requirements.

The bill could also affect how often Ohio’s traditional public school districts close for emergencies. House Bill 36, signed into law by the governor on April 6 of this year increased the number of calamity days for school districts from three to five. HB 191 was introduced the next day and proposes to completely eliminate calamity days for traditional public school districts. However, it exempts charter schools, allowing them to use “calamity hours” given to them in HB 36.

Presently, school districts that shorten their school day by up to two hours due to a late start or an early dismissal still receive credit for a full instructional day under state law. HB 191 removes this provision from the Ohio Revised Code. If a school district decided its schools should start late or dismiss early, the hours of instruction lost would not be counted towards their state-mandated minimum number of hours of instruction under this legislation.

If HB 191 were to become law, it would take effect in the 2012-2013 school year. It would not affect teacher union contracts (including the CEA Master Agreement) entered into before the bill’s effective date. However, any contracts entered into after the bill’s effective date would have to comply with its provisions.

An Ohio Legislative Service Commission fiscal analysis of the bill shows that it will not increase costs for the state, but that schools not currently meeting the bill’s requirements “will likely incur an increase in operating costs.”

So why is there a need to lengthen the summer break of Ohio’s schoolchildren despite repeated calls from educational experts to wage war on students’ summer learning loss?

In a released statement, the bill’s primary co-sponsors gave a variety of reasons for its introduction. According to the statement, the bill would help Ohio families by allowing them to “schedule school year and summer time child-care arrangements with more ease.” The longer school break would also allow families to have “a larger time frame to schedule summer vacations.”

HB 191 specifically prohibits Ohio’s school districts and community schools from holding extracurricular events on the Friday through Monday of the Labor Day weekend. Why? The ultimate reason for the expanded school break, according to the statement is to “create a broader scope of time for Ohio’s tourism, recreation and retail industries to benefit.”

Rep. Hayes has gone on record as being inspired to write the legislation by a Buckeye Lake “boat storage guy” who lamented to the lawmaker about how the school year shuts down the economy of the state.

Since its introduction on April 7, members of the Boating Associations of Ohio, the Ohio Campground Owners Association and other tourism groups have lobbied in support of the legislation. According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance records, Rep. Hayes filed reports showing he received campaign contributions from the Ohio Tourism PAC as well as the Boat Ohio PAC within a month of dropping HB 191. Additionally, less than one month prior to introducing the legislation, Hayes reported receiving a campaign contribution from the Ohio Campground Owners Association PAC.

Boating Associations of Ohio Executive Director Ken Alvey affirmed the importance of HB 191 at a May legislative conference, saying:

“More and more schools have been opening up before Labor Day, which cuts into the boating season and takes away a number of recreational opportunities for families. When you think about all the vacation and tourism dollars at stake, it really is a big deal.”

Colton Henson, Hayes’ legislative aide expects the legislation to clear the House Education Committee and go to the floor of the House in early 2012. He reaffirmed the economic aspects of the bill when he was quoted in an article in the HudsonHubTimes.

“Many tourism businesses in Ohio count on summer as the time when they do almost all of their business,” said Henson. “Tourism is Ohio’s third largest industry. In this economic climate, we want to work together to promote our economy.”

HB 191 is scheduled for a hearing in the Ohio House Education Committee which meets Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 5:00 p.m. in Room 313.