February 7, 2016

House votes for later, more uniform school start date

The Iowa House has voted to bar schools from starting before the 4th Monday in August. Representative Peter Cownie, a Republican from West Des Moines, said helping tourism businesses in the last profitable weeks of summer will help schools financially.

“We need our businesses to be able to thrive in Iowa,” Cownie said. “If they do thrive in Iowa, those children will have the resources to be able to succeed and to be able to go work in Iowa later on in their lives.”

Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, is a retired teacher who opposed the bill.

“I think at a time when we’re talking about school reform and longer school days and longer school years, this kind of flies in the face (of that),” Mascher said, “because I hope our tourism industry isn’t going to come out in opposition to a longer school year for the same reasons, that it will hurt the tourism industry.”

Representative Dennis Cohoon, a Democrat from Burlington who is also a retired teacher, warned pushing back the school start date will hurt tourism in June when snow days push the school year later.

“Even though we think we’re fixing the problem at the front end, we could be creating a bigger problem at the end of the school year,” Cohoon said, “so I think it’s best that we allow each district to make that decision for themselves, as what best fits their situation.”

Representative Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton who teaches community college courses, used to oppose a more uniform start date for K-12 schools, but has changed his mind.

“In order for kids to get quality education, in order for the senior year to be relevant — perhaps offer an upper-level course, what I’ve seen is it is incredibly difficult if not impossible to bring together various schools with various start dates and various schedules,” Kaufmann said.

Representative Kevin Koester, a Republican from Ankeny, said people in his community overwhelmingly support having school start ultra-early.

“This year we will have one of the earliest starts in the state,” Koester said. “Local control is important.”

But others cited the inability of students to show cattle or take projects to the Iowa State Fair because their schools start so early in August. Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama, called the fair a learning experience.

“And so when we shield our children from opportunities that are hands-on learning opportunities or events, we actually are impeding on their ability to learn,” Horbach said.

Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican from Alden, broke down as she talked about her son’s experience at the fair.

“I said, ‘Hey, Jim, do you want to pull this horse from the show?’ because poor Jim got bucked off and ate some dirt and I said, ‘Well, maybe Buddy doesn’t want to be here,’ and (Jim) said, ‘I did not come to state fair to be a quitter,'” Sweeney said, her voice cracking. “He learned something that day that he is going to carry the rest of his life.”

Her son and his horse wound up winning best of show that year.

Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, suggested a more uniform school starting date wasn’t the kind of education reform Iowans want.

“The paradox of this is astounding to me,” Winckler said. “…Just set a hard start date, and presto chango! We have quality schools.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its future is in doubt as general legislative rules prohibit debate of general policy bills. However, the Senate has in the past voted in favor of pushing the starting date of school closer to September 1.

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