School starting earlier in North Florida impacts tourism

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — If you feel like summer was short-lived, there’s a good reason for that. School is starting early in some counties and St. Johns County is one of them.

School in St. Johns County starts Aug. 10. Last year the start date was Aug. 16 and in 2020 it was moved to Aug. 31.

In a county and state that thrives on tourism, school start dates are a big deal.

“Summer is the time when families travel together with children,”  St. Johns County Convention and Visitor Bureau Executive Director Richard Goldman said.

It’s also when places like St. Augustine — where tourism is the biggest industry and employer  — can bank on business.

In 2016, Florida’s tourism industry took a hit. A state law that said school could not start earlier than two weeks before Labor Day was changed. The law allowed the public school year to start as early as Aug. 10.

One of the reasons the law was changed was to finish testing and exams before the winter break.

Even though that was six years ago, “the cost to the industry is not something that’s gone away,” Goldman told First Coast News Tuesday.

He said there is a layered impact. The first layer is that families with kids now typically don’t travel during August.

“So these getaways have to be shortened now,” Goldman noted.

The second layer of impact is that teachers also don’t travel as much in August.

“They’re used to traveling when the kids are not in school,” Goldman said. “Well, those kids are going to school sooner. So they’re shortening their travel window. So that takes away a little bit of business.”

And the third layer of effect? High school students who work during the summer are leaving jobs or cutting back hours.  And this punch is amplified in a year with staffing shortages.

“We have relied in this industry on young people to help us in part-time jobs. Well, with the shortened summer, they’re not available to do that. It hurts our industry.”

St. Johns County has promoted the area to lure people to the county and city of St. Augustine during the slower season of August and September.

The Sing Out Loud Music Festival in September also started six years ago to help fill in the tourism gaps created by the school bell ringing earlier in the year.

Lowell Bowen

From the time he was 8 years old Lowell knew he wanted to be on TV. Well, as people say one thing leads to another, that's how Lowell started his career in the news industry. Lowell has been part of The South Florida Daily since the very beginning.

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