Virginia lawmakers want to know how Virginia's year-long schools are performing and whether the idea can be successfully expanded. The idea is generating results in some cities, but can parents be convinced to give up their summer vacations?
Josephine Wilson, an aunt to two school-aged children, thinks students would benefit.
"It's good because then they'll learn something," Wilson said Tuesday.
Timothy Fowlkes, father of two city public school students, offered a contrasting view.
"They need a little break. They need a couple of days off," Fowlkes said.
We spoke to them at a downtown Richmond bus stop just steps away from the General Assembly Building where lawmakers got a lesson on year-round schools.
"Some students may benefit under a year-round calendar," said Kimberly Sarte of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, otherwise known as JLARC.
JLARC studied a sample of schools that cut down on summer break in order to hold classes 12 months a year. It found no major benefits for the general student population, but a subgroup of poor and minority students did show improvement in test scores.
Still, lawmakers wanted to know more about the cost and impact on lifestyles.
"Everything from sports programs to vacations," said Del. Kirk Cox.
"Are you saying it would cost an average of 3% more?" asked Del. Johnny Joannou.
"How much do I have to invest and what kind of return I get?" asked Del. Jimmie Massie.
Currently, the only year-round school in the Richmond area is the Patrick Henry Charter School. Even by conservative estimates, it would appear to take years for the schedule to be adopted elsewhere. That's because -among other things- it would take an act of the General Assembly to make the funding for year-round schools possible.
"I think it's a matter of putting one's money where one's mouth is," said Robley Jones of the Virginia Education Association.
Counties and cities likely would then have to persuade parents to adopt a new year-round lifestyle. Lawmakers suggested a more targeted approach to inner-cities, where the year-round schedule -potentially- would generate more significant results.
"Black students in particular appeared to do better on SOL tests," Sarte told lawmakers during her briefing.
While the study found teachers and parents generally supportive of year-round schools, the idea of establishing more of them remains a long way off.
"Currently, the state budget provides a grant of roughly $375,000 for any school division that may want to develop a year-round school program," said Sen. Walter Stosch.
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