• 64°

Spending too much time on calendars

Considering the number of issues before them this year that have the ability to impact citizens around the state, Virginia legislators have spent an inordinate amount of time this year discussing an issue near and dear to the hearts of the folks in Virginia Beach, Williamsburg and Doswell.

There have been 12 different bills filed this session seeking to give school districts permission to open their doors prior to Labor Day, which would effectively overturn a 24-year-old law adopted to support the commonwealth’s tourism industry.

It was not for nothing that the policy became known as the King’s Dominion Law when it was passed in 1986. Since 2005, the theme park has made about $47,000 in campaign contributions to Virginia legislators, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which maintains an online database of political donations and gifts. Anheuser-Busch, which owns Busch Gardens, made about $570,000 in campaign contributions and gave about $7,200 in tickets during the same period.

Clearly, there’s a reason that the park operators want students out of school until after Labor Day. The governor, selected state legislators and Chambers of Commerce all warn that allowing Virginia’s public schools to open before Labor Day would be detrimental to the state’s important tourist trade. Families would be less likely to travel to the state’s tourist destinations, they say.

Behind the hysterical claims, however, there is little evidence that supports the argument. Indeed, it seems obvious that most families will choose to take their vacations during the summer break, regardless of the start and end dates for that break.

There are, however, solid and wide-ranging consequences to the requirement to keep school closed until after Labor Day. Schools throughout Northern Virginia, in particular, will experience one of the most pernicious of those effects this year, as the late start — combined with snow make-up days resulting from this winter’s storms — will keep kids in school until the last week of June in some counties.

In fact, the make-up days are seen to be such a problem that the same legislature also is considering allowing school systems to operate for fewer days this year. Meanwhile, a dozen bills have been filed seeking to overturn the King’s Dominion Law, and nine of them have been shot down. All in all, the General Assembly has put an incredible amount of time into the issue of school calendars.

The message is clear — and it speaks of a cynicism unworthy of statesmen: Virginia’s educational principles — at least in this case — are for sale to the highest bidders. It’s time for legislators to pay the price to buy back their principles. The time has come to overturn the King’s Dominion Law.