Organizers of the Iowa State Fair are worried a later start date might hurt attendance as more kids will be back in school as the fair winds down. The fair hit a record 1.1 million people this year in its run from August 7th through the 17th.
Next year the fair will run from August 13th through the 23rd, and executive director John Putney says by the final day some kids will have been in school for one week already. Putney says it’s difficult to leave an activity like fair and the animals you show, and the projects and then go right back to school without a break.
Putney says he’s also worried about the whole tourism industry in Iowa, and the fact that the tourism industry generates dollars that help fund education and other "important priorities to Iowans." Putney also serves in the Iowa Legislature and delaying the start of school until later in August has been one of his priorities for six years.
Putney says Ankeny seems to be the worst offender, "And it’s just unbelievable the economic impact this fair furnishes the City of Ankeny, with the kids that we hire in the summer and the motels and hotels that’re booked the whole time, I think it’s just absolutely a crime."
Ankeny Schools Superintendent, Matthew Wendt, says they’re doing what’s best to help kids learn. "Our primary mission is to educate pre-K-12 students, and we are under more scrutiny than I have witnessed in my professional career," Wendt says, "and if world class education means that we need to be in school more days, that’s what we are going to do."
Wendt starting school in the middle of August permits students to earn more college credit while they were still in high school. Wendt says they do have almost 10,000 credit hours earned through the Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, and also have students taking other classes through other institutions. Wendt says he respects the desire of lawmakers to protect the state tourism industry, but says it may not be fair to put that on the backs of schools.
Stacy Rosemore, the director of tourism for Okoboji, says the tourism money is important to the state — including schools. Rosemore says the tourism industry brings in billions of dollars for the state, and every day the kids leave to go back to school, we don’t have the workforce for the restaurants and facilities, and they also lose families that are vacationing. "So we are losing millions of dollars a day by these children going back to school early," Rosemore says.
Rosemore says Iowa should join other Midwestern states like Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin who prohibit school from starting before Labor Day. Iowa law does prohibit schools from starting before September 1st, but all but one of the 362 districts were granted a waiver from the law this year.
Department of Education Director Judy Jeffrey says the waiver decision is decided locally. Jeffrey says every local board must establish the start and ending dates of the school year in an open meeting that includes public input. "So it’s very difficult for us to deny a waiver, only because of a state fair event," Jeffrey says.
Jeffrey says districts usually request an earlier start date for two reasons — they want to shorten the summer break to reduce remedial work in the fall, and they want to finish first semester tests before the Christmas break.
Winterset superintendent Doyle Scott says they surveyed parents and teachers to find out when they wanted classes to begin and end, and the vote was 15 to one to start school before September first.
Scott says you also have to keep in mind that high school volleyball, band and football practices start in the middle of August, so almost half of the high school students in the state are already involved in activities at that time. Scott says an earlier start date also allows districts to align their calendar with neighboring colleges or universities.