The Iowa Senate has voted to let local school officials decide when the fall semester may begin.

Governor Branstad’s education director issued a memo in December telling school districts no more automatic waivers would be granted. It means schools must follow state law and start during the week in which September 1 falls.

Herman Quirmbach

Herman Quirmbach

Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Demcorat from Ames, said that “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work. “At the most basic level, for example, some schools have air conditioning and others don’t,” Quirmbach said. “That one factor alone could cause different districts make very different choices.”

The bill passed on a 32-17 vote. Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, was among the yes votes.

“We are talking about allowing people to best govern themselves in a way that’s best for their communities and their families,” Sinclair said.

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, was a no vote. He said the senate bill just makes things worse.

“Kind of like going to a fire, instead of throwing water on it, we throw gas,” Dotzler said. “…We open this thing up…in July they can start school.”

Republicans in the Iowa House have drafted a different plan to resolve this fight over the school start date. A bill that would set “on or after August 23rd” as the time frame for starting the fall semester cleared a House committee in mid-February.

Senator Dick Dearden, a Democrat from Des Moines, called that the real compromise rather than the senate bill which would give school boards the sole authority to make the starting date decision.

“School boards do whatever the overpaid superintendent wants them to do,” Dearden said. “…I think we’re more driven by sports and egos and a lot of things. This isn’t about making education better for our kids.”

Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, said giving school boards this authority continues the “chaos” of school start dates that eat into tourism industry profits.

“We’re turning Okoboji into a ghost town in mid-August,” Johnson said.

Parents, students and educators from a year-round school in Indianola stayed at the statehouse all day Tuesday to lobby for the Senate bill. Under the new Department of Education guidelines, year-round schools would have to start the fall semester on Monday, August 31 this fall. Indianola’s year-round school began the fall semester on August 6, 2014, and took a seven-day break in October.