Capitol Update from Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

May 17, 2004

Sen. Lucio Proposes Public School Savings


Texas schools could save millions of dollars if given the power to add a few minutes to the school day and shave a few days off the school year through a proposal I plan to make either during the next special legislative session, if one is called, or the 79th session.

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, at my request, conducted a study showing that Texas could save more than $35 million in gas and electric utility costs if 12 days were cut from the school calendar.

Currently, the Texas Education Code requires that schools offer 180 days of instruction for seven hours a day. I want to give Texas schools the option to hold classes for a maximum of 180 days or a minimum of 1,260 hours of academic instruction - the equivalent of seven hours for 180 days.

At first glance, my proposal looks very similar to existing law. My plan does not force schools to take on additional costs and places no mandate on them. They can opt to keep the daily and yearly calendar schedule they currently follow. But my plan would give districts a powerful new decision-making capability that could drastically impact their financial and academic progress.

By adding 15 or 30 minutes to a school day, districts could still achieve the 1,260-hour yearly instructional minimum while cutting the calendar year by six to 12 days. Considering daily food, transportation and utility costs, the potential for savings to public schools is enormous. The plan I have developed is very much in the spirit of local control. It provides greater flexibility and control to school boards and superintendents when deciding on a school calendar and schedule. And the results of the Comptroller's study certainly encourage me to give schools an option of extending their seven-hour days if they deem it in the best interest of their students, with the added bonus of saving money.

The Comptroller determined, based on a study of utility costs at 43 school districts and 59 schools in various areas of the state, that reducing the required 180-day school year by one day could save Texas schools $2.8 million; by six days $17.6 million; and by 12 days $35.3 million.

In preparing for the current special session on school funding, we legislators have listened to countless hours of testimony from teachers, school administrators and public education advocates. It has become clear that the dramatic rise in non-instructional costs for public education shows no sign of slowing down. The people of this state and their elected representatives demand that our children receive a top-quality education, but we also demand that our taxpayer money be spent wisely.

This option could help schools reduce not only electric costs, but also busing expenses, substitute teacher pay and building wear and tear.

The benefits may also translate into a better quality education in the classroom, since savings in non-instructional costs could be diverted into instructional expenditures. I am still gathering information about the potential impact of this plan and will continue to work with the Comptroller on more extensive data.

Teachers will still be teaching the same number of hours during the school year, and even if a district chooses to hold class for fewer days, their contracts and pay would not be affected. Support staff would also work the same number of hours. Instructional days could be swapped for staff development days by requesting a wavier.

The plan also offers other benefits. School districts with large numbers of migrant students, who often miss the first weeks of school because they are with their families harvesting crops, could choose to start the school year more than a week later than their current schedule allows, simply by adding a half hour to the class day. This would make it easier for migrant students to make the academic transition once they return to campus.

I am also envisioning the possibility of a decrease in juvenile crime. Law enforcement statistics show that juvenile crime rates are higher during the after-school hours. Keeping children in school, even for just a few minutes, may positively impact those statistics.

The potential impact of giving schools greater options, expanding instructional funds and reducing utility costs should bode well for Texas. As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Austin at 512-463-0127, Brownsville at 956-548-0227 and Weslaco at 956-968-9927.

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