Governor Terry Branstad is directing the Iowa Department of Education to come up with new rules that would prevent school districts from starting school in the middle of August, or even earlier. Current state law requires schools to start in the week in which September 1st falls, but districts apply for and receive waivers from the Department of Education to start earlier. “I believe the Department of Ed is intending to move forward with new rules that would change this policy,” Branstad says. “I believe the present policy has been too lax and has not been fair to the tourism industry in Iowa.”
The tourism industry argues they lose millions when schools start early, as families stop traveling and teenagers quit their summer jobs at the swimming pool, resort or ice cream shop. Branstad has met with tourism industry leaders to discuss their concerns and, after legislators have failed for years to pass a uniform school start date law, Branstad appears ready for the executive branch of government to take action. “They will go through the traditional rule-making process in making this change,” Branstad says.
That means the new school starting date standard won’t be in force until the 2014/2015 school year. It also means there will be statehouse hearings on the proposal and school officials are likely to protest as they’ve done with legislators, saying it should be a local decision left up to local officials. Administrators argue an early August start date allows for longer holiday breaks and lets schools in college towns synchronize their school schedule with the college. Branstad appears unmoved.
“All the studies and statistics I’ve seen show that having an earlier start date has not improved academic achievement,” Branstad says. “In fact, academic achievement has gone down in Iowa compared to other states like Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and a lot of other states in other parts of the country that have a much later start date.”
Branstad was governor back in 1983 when he signed the law stipulating that schools should start as closely as possible to September 1st. In the past school year, all but eight of Iowa’s 348 school districts asked for and got a waiver to start earlier than August 27th — which would have been in the week September 1st fell in 2012. In April of 2012 the Iowa House passed a bill that would have forbidden Iowa schools from starting before the 4th Monday in August, but it was never passed in the Senate. In previous years, Senators voted to keep schools from starting early in August, but those proposals died in the House.