PHOENIX - A House panel voted Monday to dangle more money in front of Arizona schools to persuade them to add an extra 20 days of instruction.
HB 2488 would give participating schools an extra 8 percent state aid if they agree to have classes at least 200 days a year. Current law sets the school year at 180 days.
School districts already can extend their year, for which the state provides an extra 5 percent.
But Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said that incentive has persuaded only a handful of school districts to go along.
He acknowledged an 8 percent boost still may not cover all the costs, ranging from bus transportation and utilities to paying teachers for 11 percent more days. But Boyer said it may be enough to push some districts over the edge.
HB 2488 would also eliminate the requirement entire districts must adopt the longer year. Instead, a school board could decide to extend the year only on campuses where students need extra help.
Jeff Smith, superintendent of the Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix, which has had its five schools on a 200-day schedule for four years, testified two of the schools were previously graded as underperforming or failing, and about a third of students that went on to high school eventually dropped out.
Balsz agreed to take the extra 5 percent to add two weeks on the front end of the school year and two weeks at the back.
"I am pleased to inform you that Balsz is not only succeeding, we are thriving," he told the House Education Committee.
"Where once only 20 to 30 percent of our students were succeeding on state tests, now to 60 to 80 percent of our students are demonstrating mastery," he said, and the rate at which students are found to be proficient in English has more than doubled.
Not everyone on the committee was enthusiastic about more money for an extended school year. Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said he has no doubt more time in class translates into better test scores.
"It also puts stresses on families when they have a shorter vacation time than is traditional," he said.
Allen rejected the idea time spent with families over the summer, away from academics, leads to what some academics have called the "summer slide," with students forgetting by fall what they learned just the past year.
"Education does start at the home," he said. "Sometimes the best education you can get is summer with the family."
Boyer said nothing in his legislation takes away family time - at least not by itself.
"This is optional," he said, with each school board making its own decisions. And if parents don't like the longer year, they have alternatives.
Sam Polito, who lobbies on behalf of several Tucson-area school districts, said he thinks boosting the bonus to 8 percent will encourage some to take the leap to 200 days. "It's a very good start," he said.
Polito said it would be nice if lawmakers came up with 20 percent more - or even 11 percent. "But 8 percent is a lot better than 5 percent," he said.
Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said the move is long overdue.
"It has long amazed me, with all that we're doing in educational reform, the elephant in the room is still the three-month summer vacation," she said.
Funding remains an unresolved issue.
Boyer said the six small school districts now participating cost the state an extra $2.3 million, at the 5 percent rate. Statewide, there are more than 200 districts and more than 2,000 schools that would qualify for the higher 8 percent bump, although Boyer said he doubts that every district will opt in.
"It is going to be somewhat of a burden on school districts," he said, since they will have to pony up some additional local funds.
Boyer said the measure provides for the state Board of Education to reject any school's request if the funding proves insufficient.
"Where once only 20 to 30 percent of our students were succeeding on state tests, now to 60 to 80 percent of our students are demonstrating mastery."
superintendent of the Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix