The Texas State Senate, District 27 Press Release
From the Office of State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., District 27
For Immediate Release
Friday, April 7, 2000
Contact: Doris Sanchez
Senator Lucio recommends a uniform school calendar initiative to impact legislative effort addressing ozone non-attainment problem in Texas
AUSTIN, TX--State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Texas, in a letter sent today to Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Sen. J. E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, and to the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Environmental Regulation, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, requested that they include a uniform school calendar initiative requiring all public schools to start classes no earlier than September 1 as part of their agenda.
One of the charges of the committees, to which the problem of early school calendars could be included, is to address poor air quality in the state. On December 20, 1999, House Speaker James E. "Pete" Laney directed the House Committee on Environmental Regulation to: Identify program options in all areas of the state for achieving and maintaining compliance with federal air quality requirements, while preserving the potential for economic growth. The review should consider the effects of projected population growth on transportation requirements.
Similarly, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry charged the Senate Committee on Natural Resources to: Study the challenges Texas faces in meeting federal air quality standards under the Clean Air Act, and the implications of non-attainment on future economic growth. The Committee shall assess the impact that federal vehicle, fuel, engine, aircraft and other standards have on the state's ability to meet the Clean Air Act requirements. The Committee shall also study the connection between air quality and such related issues as transportation conformity and funding.
Referring to the increased ozone levels caused in part from vehicles transporting school children in August, one of Texas' hottest months, and the higher pollution levels school children are exposed to during this time, the Senator wrote, "The severity of the repercussions of failing to meet air quality standards requires us to seek innovative solutions and pursue every possible ozone reduction measure. I believe in the effectiveness of this common sense approach, and I urge you to include the uniform school calendar measure as part of your respective committee recommendations."
Ground ozone level days are highest during the hottest times of the year. In Texas, those two months are generally July and August. High concentrations of ground-level ozone, caused by a mixture of sunlight and heat with gaseous air pollutants, are detrimental to health and the main source of Texas' violations under the Clean Air Act. For example, ozone at higher levels can cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and pain with deep breaths. Since the lungs of children are still developing, they tend to breathe more rapidly and inhale more air pollution per pound of body weight than adults. On high-ozone level days, children are at an increased risk for respiratory problems. Forcing them to wait for school buses in the heat of August--when most schools start classes in Texas--or to participate in outdoor activity, such as recess, physical education or practice for extra curricular activities, can be dangerous. Areas with high levels of pollution that exceed federal clean air standards are designated non-attainment areas, which can also be elevated to moderate or severe non-attainment.
"As we examine different ozone reduction methods, it makes sense to address a system that has roughly four million students attending 7,228 public school campuses statewide. With more than half a million full-time employees requiring transportation, and having each student being bused, driven by their parents, or driving their own vehicles to school, the amount of school-related vehicle emissions being produced in the searing August heat is phenomenal," added the Senator. "Since ozone production is directly related to sunlight, postponing the beginning of the school calendar year until after September 1 would help us avoid the non-attainment status."
In the past, Sen. Lucio's efforts to implement a later school start date have primarily been for migrant students, who return later in the year and miss more days of school due to the early school calendars. When the Texas Education Agency has taken an attendance count of all the migrant children in school late in October, records have indicated an attendance of about 115,000, meaning that roughly 57,000 migrants have not yet returned to school. He has also repeatedly expressed concern for implementing a uniform school calendar for teachers who are only able to take advanced summer courses during the first part of summer; for families whose vacations are cut short; and for students who need to work but can do so only for no more than two months.
The Senator successfully passed a bill in the Senate during the 75th legislative session to require a uniform school start date after September 1, but it was left pending in the House of Representatives. Again during the 76th legislative session, the bill was changed to require a study by the Commissioner of Education, which was added to the Education Bill but then removed in conference committee during the last days of session.
Emphasizing his ardor for changing the too-early school start dates to a more reasonable time, Sen. Lucio also wrote, "...as the entire state of Texas battles the costly and highly regulated designation of non-attainment, I urge you to take into serious consideration a pro-active measure which could drastically decrease the unhealthy level of ozone in peak months: uniformly changing the beginning of the school calendar year to no earlier than September 1."