Would you like it if your kids had longer school days and the school year was extended too? It's an idea that been kicked around in Trenton for years, but it seems to be picking up some momentum.

USAG Vicenza, Flickr

Yesterday, the State Senate Education Committee approved a bill to create a pilot program to increase the length of the school day and school year, but many questions remain unanswered.

The typical school calendar for public schools in New Jersey and in the United States is 180 days. Dozens of schools in the Garden State, many of them charter schools, extend learning time beyond the traditional school year, according to the National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit research group in Boston, Mass. KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program which operates a network of charter schools nationwide, credits its success in part to having a longer school day and calendar.

"While New Jersey students do well nationally, our country as a whole is lagging behind its global competitors," says Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz, a co-sponsor of the measure. "More time in the classroom if used effectively will help to increase academic achievement, improve student enrichment opportunities and educational offerings. This is critical to ensuring our students are prepared for college and career but also that they are able compete in a 21st Century global economy. This program will allow us to study the success of a longer school day and longer school year and measure its effectiveness in improving educational outcomes."

As written, the bill would establish a three-year pilot program in the Department of Education (DOE) to increase the length of the school day and school year in public school districts and provide tax credits totaling $144 million for corporate contributions to fund the three-year pilot program. School districts would submit an application to the Commissioner of Education to participate with information on the number of hours by which the school day would be increased and the number of days that the school year would be extended, as well as documentation that participation in the pilot program would be supported by a majority of school district staff and parents of students enrolled in the district. The Commissioner would select up to 25 school districts for participation based on factors related to the program's potential impact on student achievement.

How long school days and years would be extended is still to-be-determined. Ruiz thinks any extension should be uniform. She says she will continue to work on the bill which will include exploring various funding mechanisms for the program.

Currently, the bill would fund the program through contributions made by corporations, which, in turn, would be allowed to claim a tax credit equal to 100 percent of the contribution. The bill would limit the total tax credits that may be claimed to $24 million in the first fiscal year, $48 million in the second, and $72 million in the third.

"Our academic calendar dates back to a time when children were expected to help with work on the farm. It makes no sense to stick to a tradition that provides two months of vacation to students in the summer purely for tradition's sake," says State Senator and bill co-sponsor Shirley Turner. "Longer school days and a longer school year have been successful in some communities in closing the achievement gap between poor students and their more well-off counterparts and providing improved educational opportunities, in particular to struggling students who would not otherwise have been offered certain programs. If we want our students to be successful we must continue to look at innovative ways to boost achievement across the board, and expanding learning time is one way to do that."

The Senate Education Committee approved the bill yesterday. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.