Early Thursday morning, the Senate bill to allow local school boards the discretion to open schools before Labor Day received a “thumbs down” in a Senate committee on a razor-thin vote while the same version of a House bill received an overwhelming “yes” vote late in the afternoon in a House Education subcommittee, setting up a House versus Senate fight to come. In a move that surprised both the Governor and educators who were prepared to testify next week rather than this week, Senator Steve Martin, Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee, did an end-around the Governor and held a full committee vote yesterday. The votes were there to defeat the bill, and proponents, including the Administration, missed out on a full week to “lobby” senators.
The Governor has come out strongly in support of flexibility and a change in the law to allow local school boards to choose to open prior to Labor Day. As expected, the tourism industry has again come out fighting against what has become a perennial bill to allow local flexibility to open schools before Labor Day, insisting that it would cause a huge loss of revenue for the industry and the state. Proponents pointed out that other states with major dependence on tourism, such as North Carolina, California and Florida, allow local flexibility and asked what was more important – the needs of our students or the theory that revenue would be lost. In a very well-received and passionate plea to pass the bill, an honors student from Arlington told legislators that she and her fellow students taking IB and other tests, in which they compete nationally, were at a distinct disadvantage because their counterparts in other states typically have up to two additional weeks of preparation time before the tests are administered in early May. VASSP and other major education associations spoke in favor of passage of the bill.
If the House passes the Governor’s House Bill 1063, which is expected, proponents will have additional time to work to change some minds in the Senate, since the Senate Education and Health Committee will be forced to vote on this issue again.