Following a lengthy legislative debate in 2006, the General Assembly enacted a uniform starting date for South Carolina’s public schools stating that – with few exceptions – no school could begin classes prior to the third Monday in August annually.
School districts have found that depending on when the third Monday in August is positioned in a calendar year, it is increasingly difficult to complete the first semester in 90 days before the winter holiday break, which many parents, teachers and students demand. Public pressure has led many school boards to end the first semester before the break and reduce the number of instructional days for students in completing first semester courses.
Ten years later in 2016, a bill to change the uniform start date turned into a new law changing how state testing would be administered. The new law changed the administration of state testing for all students on specific dates to allow districts to choose their testing date within a 20-day window at the end of the school year.
This new testing window removes a barrier that has been used by proponents of a uniform school start date who argue that districts starting in early August would have an unfair advantage over students in districts starting later in August. The students starting in early August would have more instructional days than students starting later in the month.
With a 20-day testing window, school districts wishing to start earlier would test their students at the beginning of the testing window. Those districts wishing to start later would test their students at the end of the testing window.
This past session, the General Assembly passed a joint resolution authorizing school districts to start the school year two days earlier than the third Monday, but even that simple resolution met resistance. Efforts to move the start date as little as one week earlier have met resistance, which makes filing a bill to allow school districts the authority to set their own start date difficult.
School boards must determine whether or not members of their local legislative delegations (House members and Senators) would support a bill amending the uniform start date to give authority to local boards to set their school district’s start date.
SCSBA believes that state law regarding when public schools may start the school year should be changed to give districts the flexibility of setting their own start date.