2017-05-11 / News

Proposed Senate Bill Would Allow School Districts To Open Before Labor Day

By Kevin R. Hess

Newly proposed legislation would allow schools to begin before Labor Day as early as the 2017-2018 school year, reversing a Michigan law that has been on the books for the past 12 years. September 29, 2005, then- Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm signed into law house bill 4803 which banned Michigan schools from starting before Labor Day unless they were classified as year-around schools or applied for an exemption. The law was enacted to help boost Michigan’s late-summer tourism, allowing for families to travel more through late August and into Labor Day weekend. Only two other states, Minnesota and Virginia, have such a law. All three states enacted the laws to boost tourism. While many business owners and city leaders were proponents of the bill, many teachers and school employees were against it, citing lack of control over the school calendar.

Senate Bill 271 calls for the elimination of this law, allowing schools to begin classes in August. Senator Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) introduced the bill with bipartisan support March 23. It was referred to the Committee on Education that same day. An amendment was made to the bill that allowed schools to hold class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in August, but required that schools be closed on Mondays and Fridays, allowing for four-day weekends to accommodate summer travel. The bill maintains the current yearly number of 180 required school days. March 29, The Committee on Education recommended the amended bill take immediate effect. It was referred to the Committee of the Whole, in which the entire Senate becomes a committee for the purpose of working on a bill or joint resolution. No further action has been taken at this time.

Under the current law, only private schools, universities, and yeararound schools are exempt. Any other school that wants to start in August must apply for an exemption from the state. According to his Web site, Senator Knollenberg says there are an increasing number of school districts requesting waivers, with 60% of those being approved.

“If we’re going to allow an exemption and approve over half of the requests, why not just remove the law? It’s a decision the state should have no part of, anyway,” he says. “I view the waiver process as nothing more than burdensome government involvement in a decision that has no business being in the state’s hands. We’re asking school districts to jump through hoops to make a decision they feel is best for their students.”

The bill would not require school districts to start before Labor Day, but it would give them the option.

“For me, this is an issue of local versus state control,” said Sen. Knollenberg. “I think these decisions belong solely in the hands of the school districts and the communities they serve. Parents, teachers, and school administrators know what’s best for their children and community.”

Senator Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) says he is “one hundred percent against” this bill. He represents the 37th District, which includes northern Lower Michigan and the Eastern Upper Peninsula, and when news of the bill began to spread, Sen. Schmidt heard from many of his constituents and the vast majority of people were against it.

“I am fully against starting school before Labor Day,” said Sen. Schmidt. “In order to have good schools for our kids, we need a good economy. The one helps the other. Starting school earlier would not be good for the economy.”

Sen. Schmidt says keeping the post-Labor Day start is not only beneficial to the U.P. and northern Lower Michigan, but the entire state.

“Some of the largest tourist destinations are Detroit and southeast Michigan,” he said. “The effects of this would be far-reaching.”

While no further action has yet been taken on the bill, Sen. Schmidt believes there is enough opposition that would keep the bill from passing.

“We don’t see this going anywhere,” he said.

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What seasonal employer in

What seasonal employer in tourism would hire a High School student knowing full well he/she would be gone in August. Last time I checked Michigan's second largest industry was tourism. The lost sales tax revenue is what helps fund the very teachers and school administrators salaries that are seeking this change. Everyone in Northern Michigan can tell when schools resume, as the tourism spigot is just turned off. We start to wander from economic common sense the farther we progress from the last recession.

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