More Mich. schools waived from post-Labor Day start
Lansing — Michigan is waiving more public schools from a decade-old law requirement to open after Labor Day — a nod to increasingly popular year-round schooling, the addition of more mandated class days and other factors.
In 2006, the first year in which August start dates were legally off limits without an exemption, the state Department of Education issued nine waivers — two to K-12 districts and seven to charter schools. More than 10 times as many exemptions were granted for the last school year.
They covered 11 percent of districts or charters statewide, including 47 K-12 districts, 11 intermediate districts (which can include all districts within a county or a multi-county region), 40 charters and a special turnaround authority for some Detroit schools, according to data reviewed by The Associated Press.
Education department spokesman Bill DiSessa said the number of waivers may continue to rise in part because more intermediate districts were approved this year for exemptions covering all or most of their local districts.
The trend alarms tourism officials who successfully lobbied for the post-Labor Day law and gives hope to some legislators who say it is evidence that the requirement should be revoked. Michigan is among just three states to require starting school after Labor Day, while one other — Wisconsin — prohibits beginning before Sept. 1.
“If you’re really about the kids, then we should be pushing for earlier start times,” said Sen. Marty Knollenberg, a Troy Republican who is sponsoring bipartisan repeal legislation that has not received a committee hearing and is unlikely to gain traction before the two-year session ends in December. “If you’re training for a marathon or a 10K run, I don’t think you would take two months off to try to get back in shape again. If we really want our kids to succeed in the 21st century, we need to give them all the tools that they need to be successful. These long (summer) breaks are not helpful.”
DiSessa said the driving force behind waiver requests is schools wanting a year-round, or “balanced,” calendar with a summer break that is six weeks or less. Other reasons the state has authorized pre-Labor Day classes include districts’ adherence to academic turnaround plans and the creation of special programs that let students earn a high school diploma and substantial college credit through a fifth year of study.
A new factor this year is a law raising the minimum number of instructional days to 180 from 175. Okemos Public Schools, a district of 4,200 students in suburban Lansing, obtained an exemption to start a week early so it could avoid stretching classes beyond the middle of June.
Tourism leaders, who oppose calls to rescind the Labor Day start law, say the increased waivers is a concern.
“August, it’s our best month from a tourism standpoint. I always say it’s the best temperatures and the lowest bug supply,” said Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association.
The state’s third-largest industry takes in much of its revenue in the summer, particularly in July and August — which tourism advocates say generates more taxes for education.
“June isn’t anywhere as good as August,” Nemacheck said, adding that some people who do not vacation in Michigan in August could instead travel south in the winter.
He said the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association — he is a board member — will soon release a study showing how the 2005 law has benefited tourism as intended. If more schools implement a year-round calendar, he said, it would still be preferable to keep August off limits to help the tourism sector.
A bill pending on the House floor would ease the waiver process by requiring that an exemption be issued automatically once a district chooses to have a balanced calendar. Another measure would remove school schedule negotiations from collective bargaining.
Sen. David Knezek, a Democrat from Dearborn Heights who is co-sponsoring the legislation that would eliminate the post-Labor Day start requirement, said setting the academic calendar should be left to local school districts. He questioned whether August schooling actually hurts tourism, noting that parents and students often have to be back in late August to attend school orientations.
The bill would leave intact a prohibition against having school on the Friday before Labor Day, allowing for a four-day holiday weekend.
“I believe in local control,” said Knezek, who like Knollenberg is a backer of year-round schooling.
For the school year that is already underway in some communities, the state approved 57 waivers requested by intermediate districts, local districts and charter schools. Twenty-three were denied.
The 16 intermediate districts alone cover up to 111 K-12 districts and 29 charters, though not every district or charter within a county may decide to use a waiver.
DiSessa said state education officials understand that students need a vacation and time with their families, but balanced calendars can help prevent kids from an academic “backslide” during the long summer break.
Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert