MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Legislature passed a bill Tuesday night that's designed to boost tourism spending by stretching out the summer vacation from school.
The Senate voted 25-10 for the bill and the House agreed 58-36. The bill now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley.
"Governor Bentley has some concerns about the bill because it restricts flexibility at the local level," press secretary Jennifer Ardis said. She said the governor will conduct a thorough review before deciding whether to sign the bill into law.
The bill allows city and county school boards to set school meeting dates as they have traditionally done, but they would have to be within the bill's parameters. It says that for the 2012-2013 school year, schools can't start more than two weeks before Labor Day and must end by the Friday before Memorial Day. That would be Aug. 20 and May 24. The same restrictions would apply for the opening of the 2013-2014 school year, and then the Legislature would decide whether to continue the practice.
Many school systems traditionally start a week or two before the dates in the bill.
Republican Sen. Trip Pittman of Daphne said mandating a longer summer vacation would lead to more family trips, particularly to beaches in his county, and would generate more than $22 million annually in extra state tax revenue. He said that extra money can be used to eliminate some of the cuts in teaching jobs included in the 2012-2013 state education budget.
"What's good for the coast is good for Alabama," he said.
Unlike Pittman, the Legislative Fiscal Office isn't predicting lots of increased tourism or a big financial impact.
Opponents said families only have so much money to spend, and a longer summer will result in trips during fall and spring breaks being curtailed. They said stretching out the summer vacation will hurt students, because research has shown the longer the summer break, the more students forget.
"It's going to hurt the students," said Kim Benos, a member of the Vestavia Hills school board, who watched the debate from the Senate's balcony.
Alabama law mandates that schools offer instruction for six hours a day for 180 days, but it leaves it up to city and county school boards to set their own start and end dates. Most start before the date set in the bill. The bill allows school systems to extend their days and have fewer school days, so long as they still have the total number of required hours and don't cut their teachers' pay for working fewer days.
Henry Mabry, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said the teachers' group supports the bill because it could generate revenue that would help prevent layoffs of education employees in a tough budget year.. State education officials estimate it would reduce teacher cuts from 948 to 648.
Huntsville school board member Jennie Robinson said the bill was driven by tourism interests rather than good education policy, and they used the state's shortage of school money to propel it.
"The tourism folks have decided they are not going to let a good crisis go to waste. They are distracting the Legislature with the money issue," she said.
Democratic Sen. Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham said a longer summer break will create problems and expenses for working parents, who must find programs for their children. "What's going to happen to these kids?" he asked.