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Ruiz-Turner Bill To Pilot Longer School Day, Longer School Year Advances

Program Would Pilot Reforms Supported By President Obama, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan Aimed At Advancing Academic Achievement

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Shirley K. Turner, Vice Chair of the committee, that would create a pilot program allowing up to 25 school districts to increase the length of the school day and school year – an initiative championed on the national level by President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan – was approved today by the committee.

“While New Jersey students do well nationally, our country as a whole is lagging behind its global competitors. More time in the classroom if used effectively will help to increase academic achievement, improve student enrichment opportunities and educational offerings. This is critical to ensuring our students are prepared for college and career but also that they are able compete in a 21st Century global economy,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “This program will allow us to study the success of a longer school day and longer school year and measure its effectiveness in improving educational outcomes.”

The typical school calendar for public schools in New Jersey – and in the United States – is 180 days. Dozens of schools in the Garden State, many of them charter schools, extend learning time beyond the traditional school year, according to the National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit research group in Boston, Mass. KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program which operates a network of charter schools nationwide, credits its success in part to having a longer school day and calendar.

The benefits of a longer school year have been debated for some time with advocates saying it increases student achievement and allows for course offerings that students would not otherwise be provided. President Obama has long been an advocate for longer school days and longer school years, and has repeatedly remarked that children in the United States attend school fewer days than their peers in other educationally advanced countries, which must be changed if American students are to compete globally.

“Our academic calendar dates back to a time when children were expected to help with work on the farm. It makes no sense to stick to a tradition that provides two months of vacation to students in the summer purely for tradition’s sake,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer). “Longer school days and a longer school year have been successful in some communities in closing the achievement gap between poor students and their more well-off counterparts and providing improved educational opportunities, in particular to struggling students who would not otherwise have been offered certain programs. If we want our students to be successful we must continue to look at innovative ways to boost achievement across the board, and expanding learning time is one way to do that.”

As written, the bill (S-2087) would establish a three-year pilot program in the Department of Education (DOE) to increase the length of the school day and school year in public school districts and provide tax credits totaling $144 million for corporate contributions to fund the three-year pilot program. School districts would submit an application to the Commissioner of Education to participate with information on the number of hours by which the school day would be increased and the number of days that the school year would be extended, as well as documentation that participation in the pilot program would be supported by a majority of school district staff and parents of students enrolled in the district. The Commissioner would select up to 25 school districts for participation based on factors related to the program’s potential impact on student achievement.

Senator Ruiz said she will continue to work on the bill which will include exploring various funding mechanisms for the program. Currently, the bill would fund the program through contributions made by corporations, which, in turn, would be allowed to claim a tax credit equal to 100 percent of the contribution. The bill would limit the total tax credits that may be claimed to $24 million in the first fiscal year, $48 million in the second, and $72 million in the third.

The Senate Education Committee approved the bill by a vote of 3-1. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.

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