Friday, March 22, 2013

When Should School Start?

At a meeting I attended in West Des Moines last week, an education lobbyist spoke to our group about what is going on right now on Capital Hill relative to education.  We are past the funnel and a number of education bills are going forward and are currently being worked on in committee.  One that educators are watching closely is whether Iowa districts will get 4% allowable growth funding next year, which would be great for all of the districts and students in the state.  However, while this is important, as is the pending legislation on teacher evaluation and compensation, I have a feeling that another topic that we are being told is going to come up for a vote this year is going to generate its fair share of water cooler talk.  What is that, you ask?  School start date.
From what I am told, politicians are tired of this being brought up every year and to get past it, they are going to bring it up for a vote.  Here is the debate.  According to Iowa Code, school in Iowa cannot start until the week of the first of September.  However, schools can apply for a waiver and start earlier.  I don’t know the exact number, but nearly all districts submit that waiver and start much closer to the middle of August rather than the first of September.  Like many of you, it seems to me that school starts earlier each year, but looking at past calendars, the actual start date has been relatively constant.  The comment I hear most often justifying the mid-August start is “I don’t want to be going to school in June!”  I get it, but I am one of those in what seems like a minority because I argue that in buildings that are not air conditioned, it is a heck of a lot hotter in August than it is in June!  I don’t have a problem waiting a little while to start school.  So the reason that the legislature is said to be having this discussion is because Todd Wolverton would rather wait until September to start school, right?  No!  There are far more powerful forces out there pushing this agenda.
We do have people in our area that attend the State Fair in August, some who would just as soon we start school a little later in the month so that they can exhibit their livestock, or spend vacation with family at the camp grounds.  But even they don’t have the power to push this agenda with the legislators.  The influence is coming from the State Fair and the tourism lobby, and right now it looks as if they have the ear of our elected officials in Des Moines.  I am not sure that waiting to start school is going to increase attendance at the fair, but I guess that it could.  However, high school students are a source of cheap labor that vendors and others who need workers want to employ during the run of the fair.  I am not sure that cheap labor is a worthy trade-off for school, but that is the loudest voice as other employers like Adventureland and the resort areas throughout the state want to keep these kids on the payroll through Labor Day if they can. 
If you have a strong opinion about the school start date, you need to contact your elected officials.  If you believe that local school districts are in the best position to make the decision as to when school should start, then express that with your legislator.  Personally, I don’t have a horse in the race right now.  I just hope that whatever happens it does not inhibit districts from having a longer school year.  I do have an opinion on that!