California Senate Wants to Push Back School Start Times Again

California State Senator Anthony Portantino.
California State Senator Anthony Portantino.

A new bill introduced into the California State Senate again proposes pushing back the start time for public schools, for the second time in the past two years.

The new partisan bill, SB 328, again written by Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino, would ban K-12 schools, including those operated as charter schools (but not private schools), from beginning class earlier than 8:30 a.m. Rural school districts would be exempted from its provisions.

Opponents claim there would be significant additional costs that many school districts would have to absorb. A Rand Corp. study noted that school districts would have to, “invest and operate more buses amid a delay in school start time.”

In 2018, then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed identical legislation from Portantino. Brown suggested that local school districts are better equipped to determine their own hours, not the state government.

The California Association of School Transportation Officials, the California Association of School Business Officials and the California Teachers Association are among over a dozen organizations in opposition of the bill.

Organizations in support of the bill included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Medical Association, California State PTA, Kaiser Permanente, and the Mental Health Alliance of California.

Last month, Senate Education Committee passed the bill by a 4-2 vote. A new hearing is set for May 13. Both school districts and education organizations are for and against the proposal, which was introduced on Feb. 15, and would add Section 46148 to the Education Code, relating to pupil attendance.

According to the Sacramento Bee, “More than three-quarters of all California schools, nearly 79 percent, start classes before 8:30 a.m., according to an analysis of the bill. A third of all schools, 31 percent, start before 8 a.m.”

“This bill would require the school day for middle schools and high schools, including those operated as charter schools, to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by July 1, 2022, or the date on which a school district’s or charter school’s respective collective bargaining agreement that is operative on January 1, 2020, expires, whichever is later, except for rural school districts,” the legislation notes.

According to the Portantino, “The leaders of local school districts are or should be well-aware that requiring students—especially adolescents—to wake, travel to school, and learn during early morning hours is contrary to the developmental needs and biological sleep cycles of growing minds and bodies. Yet, only a handful of districts have been proactive in doing what is right for students by making the change back to traditional school hours, which prior to the 1980s had most school opening between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Today, most middle and high schools begin at or way before 8 a.m. According to the most recent data available, the average start time among California-based public schools is 8:07 a.m.”

The bill notes that a survey conducted seven years ago by the U. S. Department of Education, suggests that “about one-fifth of California’s schools are already in compliance with this bill, about one-half would need to delay their start times by 30 minutes or less, about one-fourth would need to increase their start times by 31 to 60 minutes, and fewer than 5 percent would need to increase their start times by at least 60 minutes to be in compliance.”

The Senate Committee on Education commented that, “By moving the start time back to 8:30 a.m. or later for middle schools and high schools, this bill could improve attendance rates and reduce tardiness. A study involving 29 high schools and 30,000 students over seven states, Delayed High School Start Times later than 8:30 a.m. and Impact on Graduation Rates and Attendance Rates, concluded that ‘Attendance rates and graduation rates significantly improved in schools with delayed start times of 8:30 a.m. or later. School officials need to take special notice that this investigation also raised questions about whether later start times are a mechanism for closing the achievement gap due to improved graduation rates.’”

The committee cited the California Association of School Business Officials, which said the bill, “would make it difficult for school districts that choose to provide home-to-school transportation to maintain their current capacities without increased costs. For example, a school district who buses 10,000 students in 72 schools, would need an additional 142 buses, costing the district $8.9 million.”

According to a Legislative Analyst’s Office report, “Review of School Transportation in California,” the state has about 1,100 charter schools, which serve over 450,000 students.

The report notes that in general, the “state grants districts discretion over which students they will transport and how many school bus routes they will operate. The only students required to be transported are students with disabilities, students attending federally sanctioned schools, and homeless students.”

According to the Assembly Appropriations Committee analysis for SB 328 (Portantino, 2017-18), which analyzed a very similar version to this bill, the fiscal impact of later school start times includes “significant local costs for school districts to provide home-to-school transportation services and for local collective bargaining activities. These activities would result from the bill’s prohibition and not a requirement, which is not reimbursable. Costs would have to be absorbed within existing school resources. Some schools districts stagger the start time of their K-12 schools in order to utilize the same school buses for student pick-up and drop-off. School districts that continue to provide home-to-school transportation services may need to purchase additional buses. The cost for just 150 buses statewide would be approximately $10 million.”

In addition, according to the same analysis, “there could be additional workload on school districts to negotiate and reach new agreements which could result in additional local school district costs.”

The California Association of School Business Officials says the bill “would make it difficult for school districts that choose to provide home-to-school transportation to maintain their current capacities without increased costs. For example, a school district [that] buses 10,000 students in 72 schools, would need an additional 142 buses, costing the district $8.9 million.”

The Senate Committee on Education also brought up a significant study by the RAND Corporation, which conducted an economic analysis, “Later School Start Times in the U.S.” That study said that, “it is estimated that the largest cost of later school start time in the U.S. would incur from changes in school bus schedules from the current three-tier to a one-or two-tier school bus systems. Specifically, in order to reduce the total number of school buses, many school districts stack start times according to the three school levels, elementary, middle and high school, generally with middle and high schools starting first. Often high-school starts first because of safety concerns arising from having younger children walking to school or waiting for buses early in the morning when it is potentially still dark outside. That is, schools that currently provide transportation for students would likely have to reduce the bus tiers and invest and operate more buses amid a delay in school start time. Previously, these costs have been estimated to be approximately $150 per student per year, or about $1.950 over a student’s school career.”