Longer School Day Enters School Reform Talk

By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida
By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, December 10, 2010 --

A push for struggling schools to lengthen the school day may become a part of a larger education reform debate that lawmakers have hinted will be a major part of the spring 2011 legislative agenda.

Key lawmakers in the Senate and House have already said that a revamped proposal on teacher merit pay that was vetoed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist last spring will be on the table and Democrats have signaled they are interested in talking about the issue. But it’s possible that at least in the Senate, education committees will entertain a measure to extend the school day by one hour for the state’s lowest performing schools.

Newly elected State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who previously served in the House, has told fellow lawmakers, including Senate Prek-12 Chairman Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, that he intends to file a bill extending the school day, and Wise said he is interested in taking it up in committee.

“I will take it up and then let him and the appropriations committee worry where the funding’s coming from because I think it’s essential that we start out with that and do something along those lines,” Wise said following his committee’s first meeting in Tallahassee this week.

The Prek-12 Education Appropriations Committee, which Simmons chairs, would likely be the first stop for any measure related to a longer school day because of the potential fiscal impact. Simmons’ chairmanship of the committee would likely ensure passage of the bill as long as he can develop a funding mechanism for the bill. It would then likely go to Wise’s committee for consideration.

“If you’re an ‘F’ school, then I would highly endorse doing that and maybe that’s kind of what we do,” Wise said.

The Florida Department of Education released its grades of Florida public schools earlier this week, on an A through F scale. The grades are half based on students’ performances on the state’s standardized exam. According to the department, 140 schools earned an “A,” 192 earned a “B,” 69 earned a “C,” 58 earned a “D” and 11 earned an “F.”

Simmons’ proposal, which has not yet been filed, would target the lower schools.

"In a period of about five years, they'll end up having an extra year of schooling," he told the News Service earlier this month.

State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who is also the director of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said he has not had any extensive discussions with Simmons about the bill and the association has not been discussing about it either. As a lawmaker and former Leon County Superintendent though, he wants to see a proposal extending the school day advance.

“Superintendents in general support any effort to increase the amount of time that students are in class and before teachers,” Montford said.

In Volusia County, low performing schools have been experimenting with a longer school day for more than 10 years said Volusia Teachers’ Organization President Andrew Spar. It started as a voluntary program, but now it is a part of teachers’ contracts. The teachers receive additional pay for a school day that is an hour longer.

“The day is just an hour longer, so that way the teachers have more time because one of the problems we run into is they just don’t have enough time to get things done,” he said.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said that if the matter does advance, the union would support if it operated like the system in the Volusia County schools where teachers are paid for the extra time.


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