There are two bills introduced in the Iowa Senate that provide some additional flexibility to when Iowa’s public schools and accredited non-public schools can start their school year. In 2015, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a bill into law that said schools could begin their school years no earlier than August 23. This change in the law was primarily done to avoid a conflict with students and families involved with the Iowa State Fair, as well as, over concerns that early school start times potential negative impact on tourism in the state.
Prior to this, schools had to wait until the week of September 1st but could start earlier if they received a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education.
The first bill, SF 2063 sponsored by State Senator Randy Feenstra (R-Hull), says if August 23 falls on a Thursday or Friday then schools may begin on the preceding Wednesday.
The second bill, SF 2064, sponsored by State Senator Mark Lofgren (R-Muscatine), states that schools may start on August 23 or the Monday following the close of the Iowa State Fair, whichever comes earlier.
The Iowa State Fair closes this year on August 19th, so should Lofgren’s bill pass, schools could start as early as August 20th. Under Feenstra’s bill next school year, schools could start a day earlier on August 22nd.
Adventureland Amusement Park, Team Iowa, and Travel Federation of Iowa have registered opposition to the legislation. The Iowa Catholic Conference, Iowa Association of Christian Schools, Rural School Advocates of Iowa, Urban Education Network of Iowa, and Des Moines Public Schools have registered support for the additional flexibility.
SF 2063 was assigned to a subcommittee consisting of State Senators Lofgren, Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), and Ken Roozeboom (R-Oskaloosa) who recommended indefinite postponement of the bill. The same subcommittee considered SF 2064 and recommended passage so the Senate Education Committee will now consider the bill.
My Take: The bills themselves provide additional flexibility for school districts and accredited non-public schools, and that is a good thing in light of the current law. In principle, the state should not dictate to locally elected school boards when their school year can start. It should be a matter for local control. Personally, I don’t favor an earlier start date. (I homeschool, but the last two years my youngest daughter has attended a couple of classes at Des Moines Public Schools’ Central Campus.) Even so, I still believe that elected school boards should be able to decide what is best for their districts, not Des Moines. I also think the state does not have any business telling a private school when they can start.
As parents, if we have grievances with the decision made we can appeal to the school board. If they do not respond, we can work to have them removed. Typically, the closer to home that these decisions are being made the more responsive they are going to be to their constituents.