Legislation would bring year-round school to Washington state

By Joseph Claypoole

WNPA News Service

When summer months come to an end and children head back to school, many experience summer learning loss and require remedial education.

Every year, teachers across the U.S. say the first month of school after summer break usually is spent discovering what students have retained and reviewing what they’ve forgotten.

This learning loss disproportionately affects students from lower income backgrounds, according to a 2016 American Education Research Association study.

Substitute SB 5147 proposes a pilot program for four consecutive years at the start of the 2022 academic calendar to combat this issue.

The program would keep the 180-day instructional calendar, but would spread it over at least 11 months of the year, replacing the traditional summer break for shorter, more consistent breaks throughout.

School districts, up to 30 in total, can apply for the program on a first come, first served basis through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

For district’s to be eligible, during the 2019-20 school year they must have had between 500 and 10,000 enrolled students and at least half of their students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

During the bill’s first public hearing on Jan. 18, concerns were raised about the loss students would experience from a lack of summer activities like camp.

“Summer camp promotes skills like communication, cross-cultural connection, and perseverance,” Paul Sheridan, director of Four Winds camp, said. “The solution to (disproportionate learning loss amongst lower income students) isn’t year-round schooling, it’s universal summer camp.”

According to a Brookings article, a large contributor to summer learning loss is supplemental education, like camps, during the summer, which higher-income families are more able to afford.

Other challenges that year round schooling brings include scheduling difficulties for students who want or need a summer internship or job, vacation timing, air conditioning costs and childcare during the more consistent week-long breaks.

A 2015 study from the University of Texas, showed students in year-round education pulled ahead during the summer, but that traditionally scheduled students “catch up and pull ahead during the rest of the year.”

In the Senate fiscal meeting for the bill Feb. 9, legislators heard similar testimony to the bill’s January meeting, with minimal push-back from any party.

“The Legislature already establishes hours and days for instruction,” Katherine Mahoney, Assistant Director for OSPI, said. “This seems like the natural third leg of that stool to ensure … that we’re mitigating that learning loss.”

However, regardless of stance on the issue, the consensus amongst all parties was that learning loss with all students is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for further committee hearings. Additional information can be found on leg.wa.gov.