A former teacher who’s now a legislator hopes to revive the effort to push back the first day of school in most Iowa school districts. Currently, school districts may obtain waivers to set the beginning of school as early in August as they wish. Representative Polly Bukta, a Democrat from Clinton, wants that to stop.
“We wanted a school date to start after the worst heat in August,” Bukta says. “The date we would have is the 4th Monday in August as a start date, rather than people getting waivers and starting as early as they want.” But Bukta admits the proposal probably won’t pass this year as most lawmakers want to leave the decision up to school administrators.
“I would like a uniform school start date throughout the state and I would like it right around Labor Day, the last Monday in August. Now, whether we get there is another question,” Bukta says. “My hopes are dim.” And Mary Gannon of the Iowa Association of School Boards says if Iowa schools had started on August 24th — the fourth Monday of this past August, they’d be in big trouble.
“We’ve already got schools with 12 and 13 snow days this year and that means they’re going until probably the third week of June at this point — and we’re still in January. If we were to start school two weeks later, that means they’re going to school until probably about the 4th of July,” Gannon says.
“And I’m not sure that’s what parents want — and I’m not sure that’s what the tourism industry wants.” A few members of the House Education Committee met yesterday at the statehouse to discuss the school starting date issue. Representatives of Iowa’s tourism industry argued letting schools start earlier and earlier in August hurts attractions like the Iowa State Fair.
The date of last summer’s fair fell later in August than usual and JoAnn Johnson, a lobbyist for the fair, says because schools started so early that month, fair attendance dropped. “A number of 4-H and FFA kids this year actually could not stay to show their projects, had to leave early,” Johnson says.
The tourism industry is offering another argument — that the state loses tax revenue because schools start too early in August. Amy Campbell lobbies for the Iowa Travel Federation and she cites the northwest Iowa area of Okoboji as an example.
“We loose $70,000 a day in one community for every day we start school early — $70,000 of tax revenue a day,” Campbell says. “So if you add that to the whole state, we’re losing a lot of revenue for each day we start early.” Tourism officials say having school start earlier in August also means teenagers go back to school and leave jobs open for the remainder of the summer season.