EDITORIAL: Let districts decide when to start classes

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It isn’t difficult to understand why state Sen. Mike Delph wants to force school districts to start their academic years after Labor Day; what’s perplexing is why Delph would want to slap a restriction on districts at a time they need more freedom to manage their own affairs.

Delph should put more energy into genuinely critical school reform and abandon the overreach.

The bill, which excludes year-round schools after a public hearing, moved to the full Senate this month after clearing the Senate Education Committee 6-3.

Delph has a point in believing districts have gone too far in starting school years earlier and earlier. At a practical level for many families, the traditional summer vacation season now ends in early August.

He’s also right that starting school later would cut air-conditioning costs and help students in buildings without air-conditioning focus on academics instead of the stifling heat.

But the legislation is unnecessary because the trend toward earlier starts will correct itself in time. Now that the statewide ISTEP test has been moved to spring from the fall, districts will feel less pressure to open their doors early in order to prepare students, and parents wanting to reclaim space in summer calendars will press school boards for later start dates.

Delph’s bill also runs counter to the promising movement in the General Assembly to deregulate local schools.

If the state demands that educators be compensated at least partly on student performance, it’s only fair to give districts as much flexibility as possible to reorganize the way they operate. To that end, a mandatory start date would be an additional burden.

Tepid progress on debt

President Obama is to be commended for devoting a great deal of his State of the Union address to the burgeoning national debt. Obama pointed out that the sheer size of the problem cannot be solved by tinkering around the edges and that hard choices will be necessary—a message that, coming from him, would have been unthinkable last year.

However, the president and the major political parties have much further to go in showing they’re serious about making those hard choices.

Obama’s debt commission in December recommended using mostly spending cuts, but also some tax increases, to slash the accumulated debt to 40 percent of the economy by 2035, a huge improvement from the 185 percent we’re currently hurtling toward. But the 18-member commission fell short of the 14 approving votes that would have triggered an up-or-down vote on the recommendations in Congress.

Liberals will need to allow cuts to social programs. Conservatives will need to consider at least some tax increases. And both parties will have to get serious about cuts to military and entitlement spending. Only the most extreme experts at either end of the spectrum believe the debt can be tackled without both spending cuts and tax increases.

Unfortunately, time is wasting while they squabble.•

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