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Indiana lawmakers consider bill to push school start to Labor Day

INDIANAPOLIS (WANE) Indiana lawmakers will consider a bill this session that is designed to re-introduce three-month summers for Indiana school children.

State Sen. Dennis Kruse, a Republican from Auburn, has introduced a bill along with two other colleagues that would, if passed, prohibit Indiana public schools and accredited nonpublic schools from beginning student instructional days for the school year before the last Monday in August. Senate Bill 7, authored by Kruse, Sen. Jean Leising of Oldenburg and Sen. Jack Sandlin of Indianapolis and co-authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman of Indianapolis, would require schools to adjust their calendars beginning with the 2019-2020 school year.

The bill was introduced to the state Senate this week.

Kruse, who chairs the Education and Career Development committee, told NewsChannel 15 on Thursday that he joined to introduce the bill to bring back longer summers for students.

Kruse explained that Indiana schools did not begin student instruction until after Labor Day up until the 1990s, when Indiana schools began ISTEP testing in the fall and educators asked for additional school days to prepare students for the test.

When schools moved ISTEP testing to the spring years later, Kruse said schools never changed their calendars back. Instead, many schools have moved to balanced or modified calendars that give students extended breaks in the fall, over Christmas and New Year's, and the spring and squeeze the summer vacation to two months.

Kruse said Indiana students should have 3-month summers for a variety of reasons.

First, Kruse said August is a popular "vacation month," where families travel for get-aways before the school year begins. With the growing popularity of more-balanced school calendars, the month has been taken away, he said.

"What's happened is, we've lost of summer vacation month," said Kruse. "So being outside, recreational activities, boating, fishing, camping, just outside activities were taking away with the month of August, which is one of the best times to do those things. It's interfering with the outside activities."

Kruse also said with less of a summer vacation, teenagers have less time to hold down a part-time job. That impacts local employers who depend on those workers, but also the life lessons young people receive on-the-job, Kruse said.

"I think it's good for students to have work activity in the summer," said Kruse. "If you only have six or seven weeks, a lot of employers think it's not worth the effort to train you. Students are actually losing work-learning experience, which I think is showing up in a lot of our students as they go to college or into the workforce - they don't hardly know how to get to work on time or how to get along with people or how to take orders from a boss.

"There's just a lot of life lessons there that students aren't getting because they're not having a full three-month summer job."

Kruse said schools would be able to fit their 180 days of required instruction between Labor Day and Memorial Day. He said eight states around the country including Michigan currently do operate their schools on that calendar - and Indiana did so for years.

Kruse admitted that many educators are in favor of balanced or modified calendars because they allow the semesters to be split nicely, with the first semester completed before Christmas break. Educators have also preferred such calendars because the shorter summer break allows teachers to spend less time re-teaching lessons learned in the spring.

Kruse disputed that, and cited the successes of his generation - deemed the "Greatest Generation" in a book by Tom Brokaw - which had three-month summers.

"I don't think that makes you a better student, that you have eight weeks off in the summer instead of 12 weeks off," said Kruse. "To me, reviewing helps you catch it better the second time around and retain it better. I think we regard academics almost too highly sometimes. Having somebody who is willing to have good character qualities, being able to show up to work on time, getting along with people, taking orders, working hard - those characteristics are actually what most employers want. They don't particularly care if you got a C or a B or an A in a class; if you can get in there and work hard and get along with people and do your job the way you're supposed to and show up, they like that and that's what they want most."

Kruse said a longer summer will also allow students to better meet the state's new graduation requirements, passed by the Indiana State Board of Education in December. The new requirements, called Graduation Pathways, require students to complete coursework, demonstrate employable skills through service or work projects and show they are ready for post-secondary study through exams that include the SAT and ACT.

"A longer summer would be a way to work in those new work-based graduation requirements if you choose those different pathways," said Kruse.

Senate Bill 7 will go to the Rules and Legislative Procedure committee, which will hear the measure and vote to send it to the full Senate. There, the bill can be amended before a final vote.

Similar bills have been considered in the General Assembly the last several years. Last year, a like bill died after a 25-25 vote.

Considering that, Kruse said he's optimistic about this version.

"I think there's good support for it," said Kruse.


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