Knollenberg: Let districts decide when to start the school year

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As first seen in the Detroit Free Press
May 25, 2017

Michigan is one of only three states in the country with a mandate requiring public schools to start after Labor Day. This outdated policy gets in the way of schools doing what’s best for Michigan students.

That’s why I’ve introduced Senate Bill 271, bipartisan, compromise legislation that would allow local school districts to decide their yearly start date.

The bill preserves the traditional Labor Day weekend and adds Friday to make it a four-day weekend. It also allows four-day weekends for the month of August by allowing classroom instruction on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. School districts would be free to choose a start date that is appropriate for their community.

A 2013 survey from the National Summer Learning Association found that summer learning loss leads forces teachers to spend a considerable amount of time re-teaching material. The numbers surrounding this summer “brain drain” are especially worrisome for low-income students. A 2010 John Hopkins University study found that low-income youths “lose more than two months in reading achievement” during summer vacation, more than any other income group.

At a time when policy makers are emphasizing the importance of third grade reading, is the state inadvertently hurting students and, in particular at-risk students, by mandating public schools start after Labor Day?

Under current law, a school district may request a start date waiver from the state. Last year a record number of school districts applied for a start date waiver. Sixty percent of waivers were granted and forty percent were not.

In virtually every district, students are involved in pre-Labor Day school related activities such as sports, band and clubs. It’s only the actual classroom attendance and instruction that is prohibited. That sets the wrong priorities for our kids.

My proposed legislation maintains the state’s yearly number of required school days at 180. School days may simply spread out a little more evenly, as decided by local school boards.

Early school start dates won’t kill jobs, as asserted by those using scare tactics to keep control in Lansing. Families will continue to take summer vacations, just as they do in Florida, California, Texas, New York and other major tourism destinations where local school districts decide when to start.

By creating flexibility in the post-Labor Day start law, we can create a win-win situation to make sure schools adapt to the needs of students. Senate Bill 271 does that, and I encourage the Legislature to pass it and for Governor Snyder to sign it into law.

Marty Knollenberg, a Republican from Troy, represents Michigan’s 13th District in the Michigan Senate.