Iowa schools will be able to start fall classes as early as Monday, August 24 this year. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal this morning withdrew his hold on a bill that will set August 23 as the earliest date schools may start fall classes and the governor will sign the bill into law.
“While Governor Branstad created this problem last year, we think it’s been a significant distraction inside the legislature,” Gronstal said. “We’re going to focus now trying to get adequate funding for K-12 education.”
Last December Branstad’s administration told superintendents they would no longer get waivers to start school early — meaning schools would have to start fall classes during the week in which September 1 falls. A bill that sets “on or after August 23rd” as a compromise school start date passed both the House and Senate, but Gronstal objected to the bill’s failure to allow year-round high schools in the future.
Gronstal put a hold on the bill last week, but released it this morning shortly after the senate began its work day. “I’m going to let this bill go,” Gronstal told reporters. “I think there are a hot of things in it that are wrong, but that’s sometimes how it goes around here.”
This morning, shortly after Gronstal’s action, Governor Branstad said setting August 23 as the earliest date school may start in Iowa is a “reasonable compromise.”
“And I think it’s going to be of significant benefit to all concerned,” Branstad told reporters. “…This has been a contentious issue for decades and it’s an issue that I believe needed to be resolved in a way that’s going to give stability and predictability to when school starts.”
Branstad described the bill as a “balance” that resolves the issue “for the long term.”
“We had schools that were starting in early August and this was really hurting families and their vacations and hurting also the tourism economy of our state — the State Fair and Okoboji and many communities around the state,” Branstad said. “So I think this is a reasonable compromise.”
Last fall, 67 Iowa school districts started fall semester classes during the second week of August. Bettendorf and Danville started earliest — on August 11. Only 14 districts started after August 23 last fall. Senator Gronstal told reporters he’s “accepting the reality” that it was time to resolve the uncertainty about the starting date for school this fall and move on to the next problem.
“And we want to move forward on K-12 investments,” Gronstal said.
Iowa’s Republican governor said the state’s facing “some difficult financial circumstances” and cannot afford the four percent increase in general state school aid that Gronstal and his fellow Democrats propose. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, the top Republican in the legislature, said the one-and-a-quarter percent increase Republicans propose is a “learning forward position of what the state can afford.
The leader of the state teacher’s union said it has been a disappointing session so far for Iowa’s students and public schools.
“It is unfortunate that under the direction of our so-called education governor, the calendar debate that has taken so much time and energy has very little to do with student success,” Iowa State Education Association president Tammy Wawro said in a written statement. “The Governor based his school start date proposal on Iowa’s tourism industry rather than on what is best for Iowa’s students, and he certainly has not considered education funding to be a priority with his 1.25 percent proposal.”