Back-to-school tax holiday is this weekend

With the mercury pushing into the high 90s each day, it is hard to believe that for most Alabama families, the start of school is right around the corner.

The first sure sign of the approaching school year is the annual tax holiday for school supplies coming up this weekend. Five years ago, the Alabama Legislature passed this tax holiday to help families get their kids ready during these tough economic times, and the savings can be a real boost to a family budget.

Starting at twelve midnight, Friday August 6, and ending at midnight on Sunday August 8, Alabama will hold the annual sales tax holiday.  This gives shoppers the opportunity to purchase certain school supplies, computers, and clothing free of state sales or use tax.

Everything the children need for back-to-school is exempt from the state sales tax.

Clothing that is $100 or less per article, computers under $750, school supplies under $50 per item, and books under $30 per item are all tax free this weekend. Moreover, many county and local governments also suspend their sales tax, making these purchases duty free.

The tax holiday is just one way the Legislature has tried to make our tax system fairer for families.

It is hard to believe with it being so hot outside that we would be talking about back-to-school.

Many systems are beginning classes this week, and just about all others start the week after. If it seems that we start school earlier and earlier each year, that is because it’s true.

It used to be that school roughly fit between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Now school starts in August and finishes in early May.

Economists believe the shortened summer hurts Alabama tourism. Auburn University Montgomery researchers estimate that the State of Alabama loses about $26 million in revenue for each August school day because of the drop in vacation spending.

In this time of faltering education revenue we need to look at pushing back the school calendar as a critical revenue enhancer.

August is also the most expensive month to operate schools when it comes to utilities. It is traditionally the hottest month, and to keep schools bearable more electricity and natural gas is consumed.

Parents also want to push back the school start date. According to a recent poll by the Capital Survey Research Center in Montgomery, 83 percent of parents would like to see classes begin later.

So why do schools start so early now?

School administrators say that they need the extra weeks an early calendar provides to prep students for standardized tests in March. For parents and students these tests don’t mean much; the families never even see the scores and they have no bearing on whether a student advances a grade.

However, for educators the tests are everything, because it is the only way schools are evaluated. High stakes testing has a lot of drawbacks, and one of them is that it has driven the push for earlier and earlier start dates.

House education budget committee chairman Richard Lindsey (D-Centre) says he’s looked at the research and found no data that shows a later start would negatively impact education. He said states that have pushed back starting dates have continued to see academic growth.

In these tough times when back-to-back proration has cost schools more than $2 billion, it is time to take a strong look at later start dates as a budget saver.

It is an idea long overdue. For every legislator there are two key issues: how to help education and create jobs. A later start date can help create and sustain tourism jobs while adding to school coffers.

That is an idea that may be hotter than the temperature outside.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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