House bill

Bill would allow all Michigan schools to start before Labor Day

Mission Point Resort is a bustling Mackinac Island retreat where families swim, golf, play croquet, sip lavender lemonade, and dine on walleye all summer long.

In September, business drops sharply as the holiday season ends and children start school.

This drop could happen sooner if state lawmakers repeal a law banning schools from opening before Labor Day unless they hold public hearings and get permission from the Department of the State education.

The House education committee recently brought forward a bill to repeal the 2005 law, pushed by the tourism industry. The committee voted 9-2 in the October 5 hearing.

The perpetual debate pits education officials who want to introduce more flexibility in their school calendar against tourism and economic development interests keen to protect summer profits by ensuring families can book holidays during the holiday. work.

It is not difficult for districts to obtain exemptions to start classes in August. The education department typically works with districts to help them meet approval criteria, department spokesman Bill DiSessa said. The exemptions are valid for three years.

Requests for exemption are on the increase. For 2019-21, 29 middle school districts and 121 local districts and public charter schools received waivers to open before Labor Day. For 2022-24, 48 intermediate districts and 142 local districts and public charter schools have already obtained exemptions.

The middle school exemptions allow any school district within the middle district service area to start before Labor Day.

But school districts need more predictability than a temporary override provides, said Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards. They don’t feel confident investing in plans to extend the school year if they have to get cleared again every three years, he said.

Tourism executives like the waiver process because they believe administrative hassles are deterring some districts from applying.

But education advocates say they shouldn’t have to apply in the first place.

“We believe that the districts should have the flexibility on their own without the education ministry deciding yes or no,” Wotruba said. “Districts need flexibility to decide what makes sense to them. “

This is one of the reasons Chesterfield Township Republican Pamela Hornberger said she presented The law project repeal the ban on pre-Labor Day school hours.

Another reason is that many school activities – such as soccer and other fall sports – are starting to train in early August, leaving many families already unable to travel as Labor Day approaches. said Hornberger, who heads the education committee.

School start dates vary across the country. Only 22% of districts in the United States opened after Labor Day in 2019, according to a Pew Research Center study. The start dates that year ranged from July 23 in suburban Phoenix to September 9 in Trenton, New Jersey.

Virginia had a law similar to Michigan but modified it in 2019 to allow schools to start in mid-August as long as they provide students with a four-day Labor Day weekend. Michigan already prohibits schools from being in session on the Friday before Labor Day.

Districts just want the flexibility to do what’s right for their communities, said Bob Kefgen, lobbyist for the Michigan High School Principals Association.

“A lot of schools want to start in August to minimize the potential loss of learning in the summer and maximize the learning time before breaks,” Kefgen said. Such concerns have escalated since the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted learning at school and left schools with enormous challenges catching up with students.

Opponents of Bill Hornberger say classrooms aren’t the only place to learn. They say kids learn a lot about history, geography, and the environment in places like northern Michigan that depend on tourist money.

“If your only goal is strict academic education and you don’t believe in the value of other forms of education, then you could support that, but I think there is’ more to education than learning. in class, ”said Republican State Representative John Damoose of Harbor Springs, who voted no in committee.

The only other no came from another Republican in northern Michigan, Jack O’Malley, whose district includes Benzie, Leelanau, Manistee and Mason, four northwestern counties that border the beaches of Lake Michigan.

School starts earlier could particularly hurt businesses that rely on teenage employees during the summer, O’Malley said at a recent committee meeting.

Golden Shoes in Traverse City is one of them, said owner Bill Golden, who was particularly dependent on teenagers during the pandemic when older workers were unwilling to work in the shoe store.

“It’s not just Traverse City,” Golden said. “It’s Holland. It’s Grand Haven. These are all tourist areas that really depend on these kids because we just don’t have enough workers.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association is concerned about the workforce and the customer base.

“Hospitality has been incredibly affected by COVID, so the timing couldn’t be worse,” association lobbyist John McNamara said.

Mackinac Island businesses like Mission Point Resort are only open six months a year. Cutting customers off at the height of the tourist season would hurt, said Liz Ware, its vice president of sales and marketing. Seventy percent of hotel guests are from Michigan, so it’s important that families in other parts of the state are able to travel during Labor Day, she said.

“The peak months of June, July and August are when we need to make enough money to have a successful year. Reduce that 90 day window because people are going back to school? It would hurt, ”Ware said.

“It’s a real existential threat to us in northern Michigan,” she said. “The hotel community supports a large part of the economy in this region. We should be doing everything we can to support travel and tourism instead of making it more difficult. “

It seems short-sighted to education advocates.

“Tourism is important but, at the same time, we don’t think education should be sacrificed,” Wotruba said. “Districts need the ongoing capacity to make decisions that are relevant to their communities. “

The bill is now awaiting action by the entire House. A vote has not yet been scheduled.