Keeping schools from starting in mid-August

News

March 30th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

Iowa’s tourism industry has mounted another effort to stop schools from starting way before September 1st and the top Republican in the House sees “more support” for the proposal this year. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen says a more uniform school starting date might help schools better coordinate shared classes. “If we want schools to work together and provide some of those opportunities, then starting at the same time is also part of that,” Paulsen says. “I don’t know that we want to go to some sort of mandated, common schedule. I’m not suggesting that, but I do think starting at a similar time of year would be helpful.” Iowa law requires schools to get a state waiver if they start before the week in which September 1st falls and most schools get one, without any questions. Managers of hotels, resorts and even city-owned swimming pools say they lose the last profitable weeks of the summer tourism season when school starts in mid-August.

Craig Walters is executive director of the Iowa Lodgers Association.”Ten weeks is at best what we have in Iowa for our travel season and if we’re going to utilize that, that’s the window we need from the middle of June, actually, through the end of August to make it really work,” he says. The House speaker says he’s been swayed by those arguments and now supports the idea of keeping schools from starting in mid-August. “When I initially showed up in the legislature, I didn’t see necessarily why the legislature should get into that. At this point, I sort of do, especially as we look for more opportunities for school districts to work together,” Paulsen says. “I will tell you it has the most support in the House that I’ve ever seen in the 10 years I’ve been there.” But another Republican — Representative Greg Forristall, of Macedonia — vows to do what he can to kill the bill.

“I’m chair of the House Education Committee and we’ve fought this for six years now and no self-respecting chair of education is going to put commerce in front of the education needs of children, “Foristall says. “I think this bill is an embarassment.” Educators argue starting school earlier in August is better because kids find it harder to concentrate when school stretches later in June. Amy Campbell, a lobbyist for the Iowa Travel Federation, rejects those arguments. “We cannot find any studies that show starting school later impacts student achievement,” Campbell says.  Supporters revived this policy debate at the statehouse by drafting legislation that included a fee — as bills that deal with fees are still eligible for consideration in committees. Paulsen says there are “more than 51″ votes in support of keeping schools from starting in mid-August, but he’s not sure the fee will survive.

“I have to have someone explain to me how the fee works and all,” Paulsen says. “That was actually news to me yesterday.” The proposal will be considered Monday in the House Ways and Means Committee. It would allow schools to pay a one-hundred dollar ($100) waiver fee if they want to start early, but they’d only be able to start the week before September 1st. That would mean August 27th is the earliest classes could start this fall. Last year, some Iowa schools started classes on August 15th.

(O. Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa)