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Bipartisan legislation would end school start date limitation

School-Education PhotoShortly before the start of the new legislative session, Gov. Terry Branstad announced the Iowa Department of Education would no longer automatically waive the statutory school year start date.

Iowa Code Section 279.10 requires the school year to begin July 1, and for classes to not commence until the first day of September, unless that is a Sunday, in which case classes may begin during the preceding final week of August. State law also requires 180 attendance days, which has created difficulties for districts that try to fit in professional development days for teachers and still complete the school year prior to June.

With nearly automatic waivers from the Iowa Department of Education in the past, school start dates have drifted earlier and earlier into the month of August over the past few years, which has created obstacles for summertime tourist businesses all across the state. Last year, a number of schools began classes prior to completion of the Iowa State Fair, which led to concern from fair organizers and rural Iowans whose children participate in FFA and 4-H programs at the fair.

Last week, a bipartisan group of legislators in the Iowa House of Representatives decided to put the decision of when to begin the school year back into the hands of local school districts. House File 13 would eliminate the statutory limitation on school start dates altogether, as well as any penalties that might apply.

House File 13 is sponsored by Republicans Ron Jorgensen (R-Council Bluffs), Quentin Stanerson (R-Center Point), Kevin Koester (R-Ankeny), Larry Sheets (R-Moulton), Rob Taylor (R-West Des Moines), John Landon (R-Ankeny), and Jake Highfill (R-Johnston), as well as Democrats Cindy Winckler (D-Davenport), Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City), Scott Ourth (D-Ackworth), Chris Hall (D-Sioux City), and Patti Ruff (D-McGregor). Most of them represent some of the largest school districts in the state.

The bill also has support from the Iowa Association of School Boards, the School Administrators of Iowa, and the Iowa Catholic Conference. Lobbyists from the Iowa State Fair, the Iowa Lodging Association, the Iowa Restaurant Association, the Association of Iowa Fairs, the Okoboji Tourism Committee, and the Travel Federation of Iowa have all declared their opposition.

The Governor’s Office is officially undecided on the proposed legislation.