An Economic Analysis
of the Changing School Start Date in Texas
On average only 52 cents of every dollar Texas spends on public education goes into the classroom. That’s unacceptable. One of my ten principles for the 21st Century is to drive more of every education dollar directly into classroom instruction where it belongs.
— Carole Keeton Rylander
Early school start dates and a shortening summer tourist season annually cut an estimated $332 million out of tourist economies in Texas and migrant farm workers lose out on another $27 million in earnings foregone. The present structure of the school year may also be costing the districts as much as $10 million in higher cooling costs each year.
According to a 1999 Scripps Howard Texas Poll, a majority of Texans (64 percent) favored a uniform start date. Sixty-five percent of parents favored a uniform date, while about 44 percent of all Texans, and 46 percent of parents, favored a start date after Labor Day. In addition, early-August school start dates present unusual difficulties for migrant families.
Some state officials have questioned the advisability of continuing the current system.
In May 1999, State Senator Eddie Lucio wrote to the Commissioner of Education (COE) requesting that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) study the issue of setting a uniform date for public schools to begin their school year. In the letter, he requested that the COE join with Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander to perform the study. Representatives from the agencies met, and determined that TEA would look at how a uniform start date would affect education, while the Comptroller’s office would look at economic issues surrounding school start dates.
The Comptroller’s office commissioned two questions in a summer 1999 Texas Poll regarding the uniform start date for school calendars. Comptroller’s office staff also met with travel and tourism industry representatives to better understand the effects of school calendars on that industry. In addition, the Comptroller’s office contacted Tina Bruno of Texans for a Traditional School Year, and Missouri legislator, Gracia Backer, who had proposed repealing that state’s uniform start date law.
Comptroller’s office staff contacted the Public Utilities Commission, the State Energy Conservation Office (now within the Comptroller’s office), TXU Electric & Gas and the Energy Systems Lab at Texas A&M University to determine the effect of a uniform school start date on school energy costs. Comptroller’s office staff also contacted the Texas Department of Economic Development (TDED) and a private economic consultant, Dr. Charles de Seve of American Economics Group, to better understand the economic issues surrounding school calendars.
History of School Start Dates in Texas
In a 1984 special session, the Texas Legislature required all schools to open after September 1. The law became effective on September 1, 1985, was amended to allow schools to start on any day during the week in which September 1 fell in 1989, and was in effect for five years. Schools adhered to the law during school years from 1985 to 1990. The Legislature repealed the start date law in another special session in 1991.
Although Texas had a six-year period during which it could have investigated the benefits of a uniform start date, no data were collected with the specific intent of investigating the effects of school start dates.
Even data as simple as when school districts began their school years in the past is scarce. TEA does not collect data on school start dates or school holidays. A TEA survey of the 50 largest school districts in the state in 1999 did yield some historical information on school start dates (see Table 1). The 50 largest districts make up more than half of the state’s total student enrollment.
In 1990, the last year of Texas’ uniform start date requirement, 34 of what are currently the largest 50 districts started school on August 27. Six of these districts did not report their start date in 1990, but the remaining 10 districts started their year after August 27. In contrast, the most common start date in 1999 was August 16, when 14 of the largest 50 districts started school. Twenty-eight districts started school even earlier. Only eight of these districts started school after August 16. Five did not report their 1999 start dates. The earliest start date in the 1999-2000 school year was in Plano ISD, which began the school year on August 2nd.
An April 2000 survey by the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) of 1,000 school districts yielded 546 responses. Of these, more than 96 percent stated that school would begin no later than August 18th in 2000. Data from the TEA and TASA surveys indicate that school districts begin their school years on different days in August, with a trend toward ever earlier start dates. Accordingly, school years not only start, but also end over a range of dates, anywhere from May 10 to June 8. The average end date across school districts in Texas is May 25.
Not only do districts start their school years earlier, the school years are also consuming more of each calendar year than in the past. Part of this is due to changes in statute. Mandatory days of instruction have increased over the last two decades from 170 days to 180. There are seven days of mandatory staff development, though another day is often added. However, the TASA survey also indicates that there is now an average of 12 days of student/teacher holidays in a school year in addition to the 10 to 14 days off for Christmas.
Industries Heavily Impacted by Hotel Occupancy
Eating and Drinking Places
Amusement Services and Sports Venues Air Transportation Personal Services Auto Rental and Leasing Apparel and Accessory Stores Other Retail Hospitals Business Services Real Estate Maintenance and Repair
Source: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics
The three primary economic impacts – each in the millions of dollars – from the shifting school start dates are reduced tourist activity, higher school cooling costs, and lost income to migrant working families. The changing demands for childcare also negatively impact both productivity and tourism, though the financial impact cannot be precisely known.
Establishing a uniform start date would require all schools in the state of Texas to begin classes on the same day. Moving the school start date to where it was in 1990 would increase seasonal economic activity for the month of August in tourist destinations, and would reduce the use of school facilities in that month statewide.
If the uniform start date were set near the first day of September and the number of days given as holidays remained unchanged, schools would close in mid-June. The length of summer vacation would remain unchanged but school attendance would shift from what is, on average, one of the hottest months in Texas (August) to two months that are comparatively cooler (May and June).
However, if there were fewer state-mandated days for staff development, instruction, or holidays, there would be no need to run classes into June. Texans could have three full months of savings.
Shortened Texas Summer Season
The most noticeable results of changes in the school calendar have been the negative effects on the state’s summer seasonal industries such as travel, tourism, amusements, and summer camps. Travel industry representatives widely share a belief that a uniform school start date in September would improve the tourism sector of the state’s economy. The Comptroller’s Office estimates that tourist destinations lose $332 million in visitor spending each year.
Representatives from Schlitterbahn Waterparks in New Braunfels stated that the period during which they can operate at peak capacity has shrunk by two weeks since 1987. Although Schlitterbahn started full operations a week earlier in 1999 than in 1987, it ended full operations three weeks earlier.
Top Texas Tourist Attractions
Rank Attraction City Percent of
1 Alamo San Antonio 38.8% 2 River Walk San Antonio 34.1% 3 Six Flags Over Texas Arlington 26.6% 4 San Marcos Outlet Malls San Marcos 25.1% 5 State Capitol Austin 23.1% 6 Fort Worth Stockyards Fort Worth 21.2% 7 Padre Island National Seashore
20.4% 8 Astrodome* Houston 20.4% 9 Sea World of Texas San Antonio 18.8% 10 San Antonio Zoo San Antonio 17.2% 11 Six Flags Fiesta Texas San Antonio 14.8% 12 Texas Stadium Irving 14.7% 13 Texas Aquarium Corpus Christi 14.0% 14 NASA Space Center Houston 13.8% 15 Six Flags Astroworld Houston 13.5% 16 Moody Gardens Galveston 12.7% 17 Fort Worth Zoo Fort Worth 11.4% 18 USS Lexington Corpus Christi 11.3% 19 Dallas Zoo Dallas 10.6% 20 Texas Motor Speedway Denton County 9.8% 21 Houston Zoological Garden Houston 9.1% 22 San Jacinto Battleground Houston 8.4% 23 The Ballpark in Arlington Arlington 7.8% 24 Wet 'N Wild Arlington 6.8% 25 Admiral Nimitz Museum Fredericksburg 6.8% 26 Enchanted Rock Fredericksburg 6.7% 27 Schlitterbahn New Braunfels 6.4% 28 LBJ Library Austin 6.2% 29 Big Bend National Park
6.1% 30 Inner Space Cavern Georgetown 5.5%
*Enron Field may replace a significant amount of Astrodome visitation. Source: Texas Department of Economic Development
Travel industry information indicates that changes to school calendars have shortened the peak summer season from three months to two. The Texas Hotel & Motel Association provided evidence that in recent years, revenues have fallen in August, compared to June and July. For example, Galveston’s hotel occupancy rate falls 30 percent from July to September, with the latter half of August believed to resemble September. And the impacts go beyond the hotel industry itself. As depicted in Table 2, many business sectors are affected by hotel occupancy. State records from other revenue sources show that other consumption tax collections fall measurably each August in the major tourist destinations in Texas.
Six Flags provided evidence that August business has been reduced considerably since 1990. The Texas Department of Economic Development (TDED) published a report in February 1999 showing the same phenomenon at Texas state parks. Sea & Ski, which makes skin care products such as sunscreen, also reports a shortened summer shelf space season at major retailers in Texas.
A perusal of summer camp schedules for the 2000 season posted on the Internet indicates that camping season lasts only two months. One newly opened camp ended its last session on August 13. The remaining camps closed by late July or early August. Only a few camps open in May. Most do not begin camp operations until the first week in June. A few camps only operate for a single month, from the middle of June to the middle of July.
As school districts have started the school year earlier, they have not started the school year uniformly. School districts begin their school years throughout August, and end it in May and June. Amusement parks and water parks are an excellent example of how school start dates are squeezing the peak summer period. First, significant school closures do not occur until the middle of May, meaning that school children and their families will not be able to visit parks until that time. It also means that a large proportion of the potential employees of these establishments – high school and college age summer employees – will not be available for training until the middle of May. Thus, these businesses find it difficult to fully open until early June.
Sherrie Brammall, communications director for Schlitterbahn Water Parks, says the park is now closed during the last two weeks of August, once their busiest time. “If starting school in August was any better for education we would be all for it,” Brammall says. “But the calendar shift has nothing to do with education. The biggest effect the change has here is on our employees, many of whom are students, teachers, or school bus drivers. They lose the opportunity to work all summer.” As many as 100,000 working Texas teens may be affected.
The same thing happens at the end of the peak summer season for amusement and water parks. Many districts begin the school year during the first week of August. Many students report early for extra-curricular activities such as band and football even earlier than their school’s official start date. This means that the base of potential customers and employees for summer-season establishments begins to disappear as early as the last week of July.
To make up for the shortened peak summer season, amusement and water parks have made greater efforts to operate on weekends and during early September holidays. These efforts certainly add to their operating costs, but they have also helped limit the damage from the squeezing of their season. This damage includes some loss of business, and the costs associated with more intensive use of equipment with more business being compacted into a shorter period of time.
Other Economic Effects of a Shortened Summer Season
Travel and tourism occurs year-round, but most travel occurs during the summer months. This period also represents all or most of the yearly business done by businesses associated with beach tourism, amusements and water activities.
Peak periods in the travel and tourism industry are unavoidable and costly. Capital resources that stand idle in off-peak periods represent a drain on producers — and on the economy. Consequently, investment in an industry with a peak period is intentionally limited. This, in turn, causes prices to be high during periods of high demand. One example of this phenomenon is the normal, seasonal increase of gasoline prices during the summer travel season.
Shortening the summer season magnifies the existing peaking problem. Travel and tourism industries have to support their investment during a peak season that is two to four weeks shorter than in the past. The result is more crowding at these businesses, higher prices and more intensive use of capital resources.
Another effect of the compressed summer season is that overall employment of high school and college students by seasonal establishments is reduced. High school students forgo employment to return to school while college students and other seasonal workers are no longer needed when demand collapses for lodging and other business and retail services. This employment loss equates to a reduction in personal income for those individuals.
W. Marshall Barber, Director of Finance for Six Flags, states that the number of seasonal working hours for Six Flags employees, after adjusting for the effect of new rides, has decreased by more than 50 percent. Chaille Hawkins with Camp Rio Vista, a summer camp for youth, stated that the camp season has been shortened so that, on average, the college students who serve as counselors are employed two to three fewer weeks than in the past when schools began the school year later. Where the camp once operated throughout the month of August, this is no longer possible. June and July are the only months of operation.
Another effect is that summer seasonal businesses must arrange their training schedules to take place during less-preferred times. The net result is that activity required to open these establishments is compressed into a shorter time period, adding to overtime costs and generally making conditions less than ideal.
In order for seasonal businesses to successfully operate in a relatively short time span and employ adequate numbers of high school and college age employees, they must offer relatively high wages. This is necessary in order to lure quality employees away from other businesses, and quality employees are important for amusement parks, water parks and camps, where safety is paramount. By squeezing the summer season, high school and college-age workers are, as a group, forced to work fewer hours during the year, and their average total wages are reduced as well.
While Texas’ biggest cities receive most of the travel spending in the state, the summer season is essentially the entire business season for coastal areas and water and theme parks.
But of the 30 top Texas travel and tourism attractions, all are affected by the length of the summer travel season. Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin-San Marcos, and Fort Worth-Arlington account for more than half of all travel spending in the state.
Six of the top 30 attractions in Texas, including the top two, the Alamo and the River Walk, are in or near San Antonio. Three of the top attractions are on the South Texas coast, two in Corpus Christi and one on South Padre Island (see Table 3). Economic activity lost by tourist destinations is not only lost to areas like Austin and Dallas. San Antonio, which depends heavily on travel and tourism, and other common travel destinations are differentially affected by the shortened summer season. For San Antonio and South Texas, which have some of the state’s major attractions, a shortened season represents a considerable net reduction of economic activity. San Antonio alone dropped nearly 1,800 jobs – more than 15% – in amusement and recreation from July to September last year. Corpus Christi lost 500 restaurant jobs.
Also squeezing the summer season is the growing number of holidays enjoyed during the school year. There is some evidence from the TASA survey of school administrators that the number of days designated as holidays during a school year have increased. When these holidays occur, children who would otherwise be in school have to be cared for by someone. Working parents are generally faced with three options: 1) having someone care for the child, 2) caring for the child themselves, or 3) leaving the child home alone or with siblings.
The first option faced by parents when confronted with short holidays often involves expense. Caregivers are often paid for the care that they provide. Although this is a very real expense to a parent, it does not constitute a cost to the state’s economy. Instead, it is a redistribution of income from parents to care givers.
The second option for parents may, in fact, be a source of economic cost to the state. When a parent stays home from a job for one or two days to care for a child during a school holiday, productivity can suffer, increasing the costs of goods produced in the state and making Texas industries marginally less competitive. Given the fact that many parents who take time off to care for children use vacation time that they would otherwise take off at some other time, the lost productivity is likely to be very small. But again, some of the days at home come at the expense of what would otherwise be summer travel days, pinching the tourist season a little more.
Electricity Use in the Schools
In 2000, school districts’ electricity bills were as much as $10 million a year higher as a result of early start dates. Although August is typically one of the hottest months of the year in Texas, in any particular year June, July, August or September could be the month with peak electricity use for the year. However, May has never been the hottest month of the year, and the last two weeks of June are typically the warmest of that month. This means that a shift of the school year from the last two to three weeks of August to the end of May and early June should result in lower air conditioning costs for schools.
TEA collects data for total utility costs for the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS). It does not include separate information on electricity use. The TXU Electric & Gas Company has provided data on total electricity use by its public school customers. The TXU service area includes 92 counties, covering a large and diverse area of the state (see Map 1). Total monthly electricity use by public school customers for April through September of 1997 and 1998 are shown in Table 4.
Spring/Summer Electricity Usage
by TXU Public School Customers
1997 and 1998
Month 1997 1998 April 99 million kwh 106 million kwh May 108 million kwh 128 million kwh June 111 million kwh 160 million kwh July 98 million kwh 152 million kwh August 135 million kwh 179 million kwh September 194 million kwh 236 million kwh
July is typically the month with the lowest electricity use during the warm months, because most schools are out for the summer. There are some year-round schools operating in Texas during June, and school administrators work year-round, so their offices and buildings will be cooled in July. Few cooling systems are shut down completely in the summer, due to the need for humidity control. This means that July electricity usage, though reduced, is still substantial.
September is the first month when all or most schools are operating for the entire month. This would not change with a uniform school calendar, so September electricity usage in 1997 and 1998 would have been the same as that reported. If a uniform start date on the first of September had been in place in 1997 and 1998, electricity use in August would be roughly the same as that in July if the weather were similar.
Average Monthly Temperatures by Texas Region
April - September, 1997 and 1998
Climate Regions April May June July August September High Plains 51.1 64.6 72.9 79.1 76.8 72.5 Low Plains 56.4 67.9 76.1 82.4 81.0 77.0 North Central 59.5 69.6 77.7 83.7 82.4 79.5 East Texas 60.0 70.2 77.4 83.2 81.1 77.9 Trans-Pecos 60.2 72.7 78.7 81.9 80.8 77.5 Edwards Plateau 60.5 71.3 77.9 83.3 83.5 79.5 South Central 64.6 74.1 80.1 84.6 85.0 81.4 Upper Coast 65.0 74.3 80.8 84.5 84.4 80.6 South Texas 67.3 76.9 82.5 87.1 88.0 83.7 Lower Valley 69.7 77.7 83.2 86.1 86.8 83.3 Simple Avg. 61.4 71.9 78.7 83.6 83.0 79.3
Climate Regions April May June July August September High Plains 55.2 71.5 78.7 82.6 77.3 75.8 Low Plains 60.2 76.7 83.9 87.8 82.7 80.6 North Central 62.5 77.0 83.9 88.7 85.2 81.5 East Texas 62.6 76.3 84.2 88.3 84.9 80.9 Trans-Pecos 55.5 76.9 84.1 83.9 79.6 77.8 Edwards Plateau 65.5 79.3 84.5 87.1 81.6 78.7 South Central 67.4 79.5 86.2 87.5 84.8 81.9 Upper Coast 67.6 78.8 84.7 86.1 84.7 82.4 South Texas 72.0 83.3 89.4 89.6 86.2 82.9 Lower Valley 72.9 81.6 87.7 87.8 87.5 83.1 Simple Avg. 64.1 78.1 84.7 86.9 83.5 80.6
Source: Texas Almanac, 2000-2001, pp. 85 & 86
In 1997, the weather in July and August was similar in terms of average temperature as can be seen in Table 5. Had schools not been in session in August, electricity use would have been about 98 million kwh instead of 135 million kwh, a difference of 37 million kwh. If the cost of each kilowatt-hour were 8 cents, the schools in TXU’s service area would have saved $3 million in 1997. Doing the same calculation in 1998, TXU’s public school customers could have saved $2.2 million, although this estimate is low since July was warmer than August in 1998, causing July electricity needs to be unusually high in comparison to August.
Current TXU Service Area
TXU’s service area includes about 440 school districts with an enrollment of about 1.4 million students. The savings per student of reducing school electricity usage in the TXU service area by 37 million kwh would have been about $2.10 in 1997. The savings from using 27 million kwh less in 1998 would have been about $1.52 per student. Extrapolating these savings to all of the students in the state results in a total potential statewide savings of $8 million in 1998. If 2000 temperatures are repeated, the annual effects could exceed $10 million.
This estimate, however, does not take into account many factors, including additional school days necessary in May and June, the unpredictability of the weather from year to year, and different weather patterns outside the TXU service area. Table 5 demonstrates how much the weather can vary from one year to another.
Migrants begin to leave the state as early as March. Most start their annual migration in April and May. Some begin to come back in August but many return in September and October. The vast majority of migrant families with school-age children, however, evidently do not leave Texas until late May and early June, when schools dismiss for the summer. Most come back in August, too, just in time for their children to start school with their peers. This is evidenced by monthly school enrollment and withdrawal figures (see Exhibit 1).
School districts with large numbers of migrant families have generally moved up their school start date along with other districts in the state. The earlier school start dates affect migrant families in different ways. For the large majority of migrant families, the earlier school start date and the extension of the school year shortens the period of time over which they earn the bulk of the family’s yearly income. For those who must choose to continue working to support their families, the early start date is tougher on their children in their educational pursuits; they have to adjust to school transfers and the uneven coverage of material across districts and states.
According to the Texas Education Agency, Texas has the second-largest Migrant Education Program in the United States. In the 1998-99 school year, the Texas Migrant Education Program identified 123,000 migrant children 3 years of age and older. Texas also has the largest population of students who migrate with their parents to other states. The state’s migrant population poses a unique educational challenge that is not made easier by the early school start date and extension of the school year.
Texas Migrant Student Enrollments
and Withdrawals for 1998-99
Alicia Mendoza of Crystal City, Texas and her family, until this year, annually migrated to Montana to work the fields. Mrs. Mendoza is a second-generation American whose parents emigrated from Mexico. As a child, she accompanied her family on their yearly trek to work in the fields of northern states, leaving in June or July and not returning to Texas until November. She remembers what it was like to have to catch up in school upon her return to Texas. Realizing the value of education, she has insisted that her children be home in time to begin school with their peers. Her determination not to disadvantage her children educationally, however, has not come without a financial cost.
Mrs. Mendoza and her husband have a combined income of about $14,000 to $15,000 per year. By choosing to come back to Texas in August for school instead of October when work in the fields and canneries comes to an end, the Mendoza family sacrifices over $2,000 in lost wages — 13 percent of their yearly family income. If the Mendoza family could extend their stay working out-of-state for two more weeks, their yearly income would increase by $600.
While $600 may not seem like a lot of money, it should be remembered that this represents 4 percent of the Mendoza family’s income, and the Mendoza family is only one of thousands. Recall that 123,000 migrant children have been identified in Texas. About 95 percent of these are from Hispanic families who typically average 2.2 children per family. This means there are approximately 55,900 migrant families with children who call this state home.
According to the Exhibit 1, some 79 percent of migrant families enroll their children in school in August, in time for the first day of classes, just like the Mendoza’s. Also just like the Mendoza’s, each of these families stand to lose about $600 in income compared to what they would make if schools started in early September. This represents a total of $27 million in lost direct income to migrant families from Texas. But this is not all. Money earned out-of-state and spent here has a more far-reaching effect in stimulating the economy, meaning that the total loss to the Texas economy is almost $84 million.
Because so many families are forced to sacrifice income for a policy whose benefits are difficult to identify, the United Farm Workers of America endorses a later school start date.
Even if school began as late as the day after Labor Day, many migrant children would miss the beginning weeks of the school year. Many migrant students continue to be enrolled in the months of September, October, November, and December — a total of 17,972 in 1998. The earlier school begins, the more weeks of school these migrant children miss, making it more difficult for them to catch up with their peers who have attended school for better than two weeks by the time Labor Day rolls around.
Roberto Rodriguez chooses to remain in Minnesota, where he works in a cannery, into early October. There, he enrolls his nine-year-old son in school, which starts in September after Labor Day. No more than two days of schooling is lost in the trek back to Texas, but Mr. Rodriguez’s son is still behind his peers in Texas who started school in August.
While the federally funded Migrant Education Program seeks to move additional resources into the education of migrant children in order to help them keep up, the fact is that migrant children still lag significantly behind the state as a whole in TAAS passage rates. Only 78.4 percent of migrant students pass the TAAS math exam as compared to 85.7 percent of all students in the state. The passage rates of migrant students in reading and writing are 72.8 percent and 76.8 percent respectively, compared to passage rates of 86.5 percent and 88.2 percent for all students in the state.
The TAAS passage rates reported above are for the 1998-99 school year and they reflect significant improvement over the previous year’s results, for migrants as well as for the state’s overall student population. Nevertheless, migrant students are not performing at the state’s average level. There are many reasons for this, but being two or more additional weeks behind their peers cannot have a positive effect on academic performance.
There are clear economic disadvantages imposed on tourist-destination areas of the state related to the early school start date. At least $332 million is lost from the annual shriveling of visitor spending in these places. Although these are not statewide economic impacts, in tourist destinations the shocks are real. Teenage employment declines. Hotel rooms go unfilled; other businesses experience similar slumps. Electricity costs climb for all school districts, whether in tourist destinations or not.
Equally clear is that large numbers of Texans do not favor the current practice. Sixty-five percent of parents favor a uniform date. And perhaps most deeply affected are many children of migrant farm workers – those who could better their lives more profoundly than most – by having to begin every school year at least two weeks behind everyone else.
 Texas Department of Economic Development, The Effects of Alternative Academic Calendars on the Texas Travel Industry, (Austin: February 1999).
 Interview, Mike Sherburne, TXU Electric & Gas employee.
 Source: Mike Sherburne, Clyde King, and Denise Miller, TXU Electric & Gas employees.
 Rate provided by TXU employee, Clayton Zachary, and is only a rough estimate.
 Texas Education Agency, Snapshot ’99, based on enrollment in school districts in counties serviced by TXU.
 Texas Education Agency, Program Summary: Division of Migrant Education, 1999-2000, unpublished document.
Juanita Valdez-Cox, UFW Regional Coordinator, San Juan, TX, letter dated August 21, 2000.