A bill has been introduced in the Iowa House that ultimately would allow Iowa schools to start earlier in August, something Governor Terry Branstad is trying to stop. Branstad favors tying the school start date to the week in which September 1st falls, but Representative Ron Jorgensen, of Sioux City, says that’s a decision for local school officials, not the state to make. “I’ve just been in support of local conrol and if the focus is just totally on education, I think that’s the way we should look at it.”
Branstad argues Iowa’s tourist attractions like the State Fair lose visitors, and teenage employees, when schools start classes in early August. Jorgensen is the lead sponsor of a bill that would give school officials unlimited local authority to set the first day of the school year. “This would eliminate the waiver requirement for school districts and allow the school districts to set their own start date,” Jorgensen says.
Under current law, Iowa schools are supposed to start during the week in which September 1st falls, but school districts can apply for a waiver from the later start date. The Iowa Department of Education has automatically granted those waivers, but in mid-December the agency’s director announced schools would have to “adequately demonstrate” starting school at the end of August would have a “negative educational impact” on students.
Advocates of starting earlier in August say it allows students to take end-of-semester tests before the New Years break. Jorgensen says there’s also a need to coordinate the schedule with Iowa colleges, because many high schoolers are already taking college courses. “And most of those colleges will start the second or third week of August also,” Jorgensen says.
Jorgensen, a former school board member, is a Republican and he was the main sponsor of Branstad’s education reform plan that cleared the legislature last year. Jorgensen is also chairman of the House Education Committee and he plans to bring his bill up for debate “as soon as possible.” There are already a dozen co-sponsors of Jorgensen’s bill to essentially eliminate any state limit on when schools can start.