The Iowa House today (Tuesday) engaged in a lengthy and sometimes testy debate over whether the state should forbid schools for starting before August 25th. Schools are currently allowed to seek a waiver to start earlier, but advocates for tourism venues argued that hurts tourism.
Representative Mike May, a Republican from Spirit Lake, runs a resort at Okoboji. “If we were to take a weekend away from the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I wonder how that would impact retail sales in the state of Iowa,” May says. He argued that’s what happens to Iowa’s tourism destinations when schools are allowed to get that waiver and start earlier.
Representative Geri Huser, a Democrat from Altoona, says the Iowa Association of Fairs — the group that represents Iowa’s county fairs — favor the later school start date. “The reason for that is the continued problems they have and the number of youth (who) are in tears because they’re unable to attend the State Fair events after they’ve put in months and months of work for their projects, or their cattle or whatever they’re taking forward.” Representative Kevin McCarthy, a Democrat from Des Moines, says starting school early prevents some kids — and their parents — from attending the State Fair. “Quality of life is something that is very important and our local tourism and our local fairs as well as our State Fair, which I’m very proud to have in my district, are very imporant as it relates to quality of life,” McCarthy says.
Representative Betty De Boef, a Republican from What Cheer, says one school in her area plans to start on August 14th, and De Boef says to her, August 25th seems more reasonable. “A lot of the schools do not have air conditioning yet,” De Boef says. “When my kids were in school, the school that they attended scheduled one p.m. dismissal every day because they figured they’d be sending them home early anyway. Those early dismissals are denying our children the time that they need in the classroom.”
But Representative Carmine Boal, a Republican from Ankeny where school will start August 17th, successfully argued local school boards should make the decision of when school starts. She says 41 percent of Iowa school district — 150 out of the 365 — start before August 25th.
Representative Paul Wilderdyke, a Republican from Woodbine, says it’s a local control issue — and local school boards should decide when their schools start. “Hearing some people talk in this House, it seems like they’re saying we should just flat get rid of school boards, that we can make the decisions for them here,” Wilderdyke says. Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, agreed school boards should make the decision. “This conversation that we are having on the floor of the House, trying to set the start date for our K-12 schools is exactly why it needs to be a local decision,” Winckler says.
Representative Sandy Greiner, a Republican from Keota, says she’s not anti-4-H or FFA, or against the State Fair, but school start datess — in her opinion — should be set by the local school board. “I’m amazed at the people in this chamber who are putting all kinds of things over and above the education of our children,” Greiner says. “I am stunned. I am literally stunned to hear people tell me that there are things that are more important than school for children.”
The House voted 51-to-38 to maintain the status quo and let schools start early. The Senate had earlier voted to forbid schools from starting before August 25th. Governor Tom Vilsack says he’s not interested in having the state set a uniform school start date. “I’ve really focused on what I think are more significant issues involving education and that is a more rigorous and relevant high school…graduation requirements that are applied statewide,” Vilsack says.