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Tourism industry dominates state committee on summer break


So, the state Senate announced members of a new study committee weighing whether Georgia ought to impose a uniform starting date on schools that considers the needs of the tourism industry. 

Notice anything odd about the list of appointees? Like the glaring fact the committee is full of folks friendly to or part of the resort and tourism fields? 

Absent are teachers, school leaders and PTAs. Instead, the panel is stacked with the tourism and business reps. Is this the ideal assemblage to determine when students in Georgia ought to return to school after summer break?

This is akin to creating a committee on the overuse of opioids and filling it with Big Pharma and doctors who prescribe painkillers. Or convening a state panel on healthy eating and limiting it to representatives of McDonald’s, Burger King and Coca-Cola -- and then serving Pringles and Cheetos Flamin' Hot Crunchy during the meetings.

The Senate study committee is charged with examining the economic impact from the range of school starting dates across Georgia, many of which are now early August.  The resolution that created the committee stresses the importance of tourism and notes that early and scattered school starting dates impede the industry’s ability to hire student workers and attract vacationing families.

There is already skepticism about the state bigfooting its way into what most parents believe ought to remain a local decision by local communities  – when schools should start and finish. And parents believe the school calendar ought to hinge on best classroom practices and educational outcomes, not business ones.

While the resolution specified most of the committee members, the governor and lieutenant governor had appointees. Nathan Deal appointed an attorney who formerly worked in economic development for the state, and Casey Cagle chose the CEO of a resort company.

The committee includes chair and state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, Deputy Commissioner of Tourism for the Department of Economic Development Kevin Langston, Georgia Chamber of Commerce designee Michael Owens, Director of the Georgia Travel Association Kelsey Moore, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus Jay Markwalter, former state Director of Community Affairs Camila Knowles, State Board of Education member Scott Johnson and Grier Todd, chief operating officer at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.

Where is the school superintendent or teacher of the year? Or PTA president?

I hope some of them are in the audience Tuesday when this committee holds its first meeting at 1:00 p.m. in room 450 of the Georgia Capitol.

I reached out to Gooch as committee chair for comment and was told by a Senate spokeswoman, “He said that he hopes that you will come to the meeting on Tuesday so he can speak with you. He looks forward to seeing you then.”

Gooch invited the Professional Association of Georgia Educators to appear at Tuesday’s meeting. In preparation, PAGE launched a short poll on school starting dates Thursday night. By Friday morning, nearly 10,000 educators had responded.

According to PAGE legislative affairs director Margaret Ciccarelli, while the results revealed teachers are concerned about early starting dates, they overwhelmingly — 81.8 percent — believe local school districts should continue to control their school calendars and start dates.

Here is the official release on the committee and its first meeting Tuesday. 

Sen. Steve Gooch, R – Dahlonega, recently announced that the first meeting of the Senate Study Committee on Evaluating the School Year Calendar of Georgia Public Schools will be held on Tuesday, October 9, at 1:00 p.m. in room 450 of the Georgia Capitol. 

Sen. Gooch will serve as Chairman of the committee and members will include Sen. Mike Dugan (R – Carrollton), Sen. John Wilkinson (R – Toccoa), Sen. Jack Hill (R – Reidsville), Mr. Grier Todd, appointed by Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, Deputy Commissioner of Tourism for the Georgia Department of Economic Development Kevin Langston, Georgia Chamber of Commerce designee Michael Owens, Director of the Georgia Travel Association Kelsey Moore, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus Jay Markwalter, Camila Knowles, appointed by Governor Nathan Deal, and State Board of Education designee Scott Johnson.

The Senate Study Committee on Evaluating the School Year Calendar of Georgia Public Schools was created by the passage of Senate Resolution 1068 during the 2018 Legislative Session. The committee will review the effect of varied school start dates on the travel and hospitality industries while ensuring that there will be no disruption to the education of Georgia’s children.

 

 


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.