In September 2004, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn released her report, Saving Summer: Lessons Learned, showing that over the last fifty years, additional student holidays have artificially stretched the school year by more than two weeks, from early to mid-August to late May or early June, at a cost to Texans of $790 million dollars annually.
The report contained no recommendations, but the Comptroller voiced her support for a later school start date, saying, "I believe that a school year that begins after Labor Day is feasible."
To ensure that the opinions and concerns of those who live and work in the school districts were heard and that any recommendations formulated were workable, Comptroller Strayhorn appointed a Task Force, chaired by former Chancellor of the University of Texas System, Dr. William H. Cunningham, and made up of parents, teachers, administrators and community and business leaders.
Prior to the Legislative session in January, the Comptroller asked the Task Force to explore alternatives to early school-start dates, lay out a plan that preserves necessary instructional school days, examine the start-date waiver loophole process in existing law and look for ways to give parents and community members more say in the waiver process. Some of the questions she believed needed to be answered included, but were not limited to:
- What will it take for schools to return to a nine-month school calendar with classes beginning at or near Labor Day?
- How do parents, teachers and community members currently feel about the earlier start dates?
- How can the waiver process be strengthened to insure that parents and community members have a say in the decision-making process?
- When should the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test be given? Would giving the test later in the year insure that instructional time is used effectively?
- What are the real benefits and detriments to giving finals before the Winter break?
- What value is added by allowing schools to waive instructional days in exchange for staff development? Are teachers benefiting from and satisfied with the quality of mid-year staff development days?
She also asked the Task Force to look at the impact that earlier start dates are having on migrant families, both from the standpoint of the tremendous monetary sacrifices that parents must make to bring children back to the state in time for school, and the societal costs when children miss those first critical weeks of school when parents cannot forgo the income and return early.