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Schools Starting Earlier, Reasons Vary

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, July 26, 2010
Back in the day, school used to start right after Labor Day in early September. But these days most area districts are starting throughout the month of August. And Lodi Unified’s school year starts tomorrow. Catherine Pennington is the district’s assistant superintendent.

“More and more districts in our surrounding area are moving to something similar to this. Stockton Unified is now joining us and then Lincoln Unified which is close by…they start in the middle of August. So we find that more often it is an anomaly that districts start after Labor Day.”

Pennington says a modified traditional calendar works for them because families with kids in both high school and elementary school can have the same summer vacation. During the school year, kids have a two-week break every nine-weeks.

There’s another reason why many schools are starting earlier.

“The reality is some districts are pressed to also address community needs of childcare.”

Paul Heckman is associate dean at the UC Davis School of Education. He says a lot more kids are being left home alone while both parents go to work...so starting school earlier helps working families.

“If there are not adequate child programs during the summer, schools have always traditionally had a latent function of child care.”

For most districts, beginning the school year before Labor Day isn’t a budgetary decision.

“You’re not going to save money by starting earlier.”

But State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell says the economy is putting pressure on schools in another way.

“You will save money if you have fewer school days.”

More than a dozen districts throughout the state are shortening their school year to save money. Locally, Elk Grove Unified reduced its calendar from 180-days to 175.

O’Connell says reducing instructional days, no matter when the school year begins, can put California kids at a competitive disadvantage. 
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