‘Compromise’ Could End School Start Date Controversy

Des Moines, Iowa — The chairman of the education committee in the Iowa House believes he’s got a compromise that could end the controversy over when Iowa schools should start classes in August.
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Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City, has drafted a proposal that would require Iowa’s K-through-12 schools to start the fall semester on or after August 23rd. Jorgensen says there’s been of lot of discussion about the issue.

(as said) “Just going back and forth and talking to some school district officials on what’s still doable for them and taking into consideration the State Fair issue and the tourism issue and those type of things,” Jorgensen says.

Governor Terry Branstad has been a critic of having schools start earlier and earlier in August, complaining it hurts the state’s tourism industry and makes it impossible for families to go to the Iowa State Fair. Two months ago Branstad’s Department of Education put schools on notice that no more automatic waivers would be granted, so schools would have to start in the week in which September 1st falls. Brian Johnson is a lobbyist for the Iowa State Fair, the Iowa Lodging Association and the trade group for Iowa’s restaurant industry. He says August 23rd seems better than August 11th, the date on which some schools started classes last year.

(as said) “It’s an issue that the State Fair has worked on for a long time,” Johnson says. “I know not all the tourism people are happy with that date, but it’s one that we believe we can support and hope we can get the issue behind us.”

Margaret Buckton is a lobbyist for the Rural School Association of Iowa and the Urban Education Network.

(as said) “For us, school boards being able to set when school starts is a core belief,” Buckton says. “And it’s one that, frankly, we wouldn’t compromise on because we think the priority of children trumps all other things.”

Schools say they need to start early in order to conclude the fall semester before the long holiday break, plus many high school students take community college courses and community colleges start earlier than the last week of August, too. The House Education Committee’s chairman says setting August 23rd as the start date accommodates those two concerns from schools. Republicans and Democrats on the committee met privately for about an hour Monday, February 9th to discuss Jorgensen’s compromise. A committee vote on the idea could come this Wednesday, Februay 11th.

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