It’s no secret that raising a child costs money and that educating a child can be expensive. Parents are faced with a lot of educational options, and their costs can add up: childcare and preschool for the younger set, private schools, enrichment activities and tutoring for school aged kids, and finally, of course, college.
Even if you send your child to public schools, you may still make choices that cost you more or less money. Do you send your child to a magnet school where they can get different opportunities, even if it increases your transportation expense? Do you pay for extra activities and field trips? Test prep? Tutoring?
There’s one choice, though, that an increasing number of schools are choosing for parents that affects their finances. While traditionally schools have operated on a September to May schedule, an increasing number have moved to a year-round calendar. Instead of a long summer break followed by 9 months of school, kids go to school for 6-9 weeks at a time, then take 2-to 4-week breaks.
The numbers aren’t huge. Only about 4% of schools in the 2011-12 school year were year round. That’s a relatively small total, but an increase of about 26% from the level only 5 years earlier.
Some parents like year round schools and some parents hate them.
Year round schools are a popular solution to a number of educational problems. Some studies show that kids have less chance to forget what they’ve learned over a short break as opposed to a long summer, helping with those all-important test scores.
Of course, some studies have shown that the kids in traditional calendar schools have done just as well, too.
For fast- growing school districts, year-round schools can also help address crowded facilities by staggering attendance throughout the school year. A year round school might be able to accommodate an additional 25-33% of students over one where all of the kids are on the same schedule.
The choice to turn a school from a traditional to a year-round calendar can be controversial. Lots of parents have fond memories of long summer days. Plenty of working adults find the frequent school breaks disruptive.
Until I read an article this weekend, I didn’t really think about the fact that if your kid goes to year round school, you’re probably incurring a little extra expense.
Asking the Question
Even though we canceled our subscription months ago, our local newspaper continues to deliver a newspaper on Sundays. So this Sunday, I sat down and skimmed through the paper. I noticed a story raising concerns about Wake County converting several low-income schools to the year-round calendar.
Child care options are more limited, and therefore more expensive, for kids who go to year round schools. Most organizations gear their summer programs (and school year programs for that matter) for the larger group of kids that go to school on a traditional calendar, not for the groups of kids that are in and out of school all year long.
There are also fewer teenagers and college kids available to babysit during track-outs since year round school tends to be far more prevalent in elementary schools than for upper grades. This factor can also cause parents to have to manage multiple schedules as kids age out of the year round programs and into traditional calendar schools.
The financial impact that year-round schools can inflict on families can even go beyond child care. There is at least one academic study that suggests that being zoned for year-round schools can hurt your home value.
Are the benefits of year-round schools worth the additional costs?Year-Round Schools: The Good
Little Bit goes to a year round school, and there are a lot of good things about it. She won’t lose much academic ground over her 3-week breaks compared to what she might forget over a 10 week summer. We can go on off-season vacations or hit movie matinees and other activities when crowds are light. I’ve also found that the breaks are long enough that she’s been ready to go back, but short enough not to drive us all crazy.
Some areas of concern haven’t affected our family, due to our personal circumstances. School breaks haven’t been too expensive yet, since either Jon or I have been able to be home with Little Bit during all of her breaks.
She’s an only child, so we don’t have to manage multiple school schedules.
However, even though Little Bit is only in Kindergarten, we’ve already noticed a few inconveniences with the year-round schedule.
and the Bad
- Her beloved outdoor preschool offers summer camps for older kids, giving kids the chance to explore orienteering, art, and construction. She also goes to theater class she adores at a community theater, which offers several summer camps. Unfortunately, Little Bit’s warm weather track outs occur in late May and Late August. All of the camps occur while she’s in school.
- Her school schedule also means that taking a vacation in November or February means missing a week of her regular activities. While theater and swim classes tend to take a week off breaks when the traditional calendar kids are out, they don’t schedule around track-outs. It’s not terrible to miss a week of class, but we still pay by the class rather than the lesson.
- Coordinating schedules to do activities with other kids can be inconvenient. Even at the same school, there are kids on 4 different schedules. This means that during a track-out, Little Bit may not get a lot of interaction with other kids most days.
- You don’t get quite the same savings on back to school supplies, since the first day of school tends to arrive about two weeks before the sales begin.
(To be fair, there’s also less chance to misplace anything from the end of the year, since the break between finishing one grade and starting the next is about two weeks.)
Year-Round Schools: Our Judgement
For all of the inconveniences, we have no intention of moving Little Bit to a traditional calendar school. She goes to a very good school with good teachers and what appears to be a lot of resources.
As I’ve mentioned, though, we haven’t had to worry as much about the added expense as some families. The year-round calendar can be a lot harder on larger families who have to juggle multiple schedules, and child care is less of an issue if one or both parents have flexible work.
The increased cost of school supplies we can mitigate by reusing what we have and procrastinating a week or two. We’ll bring the 47 glue sticks on the supply list, just maybe not on the first day of school.
Consider the Schedule, Though
One thing we have considered is applying to change her track. As I mentioned before, the schedule we’re on currently gets time off in late August, late November, late February and late May. That’s a great schedule for off-peak vacations, but not so great for meshing schedules with summer activities and friends from other schools.
The other 3 tracks have breaks during peak summer, so the track you are on can also affect your bottom line.
If we can switch schedules, it might give us more flexibility to enjoy at least part of a regular summer (and for us to enjoy summer activity pricing) while keeping Little Bit at her very good school.
We’re still weighing the impact of the changing schedule against the impact of keeping her on the same track with her friends, and right now we’re leaning toward keeping things as they are to maintain those friendships.
I do think, though, that if we were starting over from scratch, we might have ranked the tracks we wanted a little differently because a little summer vacation never hurts.
How do you see year round schools versus those following a traditional calendar? Do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages?