House Passes Bill for August 23 School Start Date

Mar 24, 2015

The Iowa House passed a bill on the contentious issue of school start dates for Iowa K-12 students today. The legislation allows middle and elementary schools that follow year-round calendars to set an early school start date; however, all other schools could start only as early as August 23.

State Rep. Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, voted against the bill. She says the one-size-fits-all start date for high schools is a bad approach.

"Each and every one of the schools in our districts are telling us, 'Let use decide…Give us that opportunity to determine what is in the best interests of our students,'" Mascher says. "I trust them to do that."

The Iowa tourism industry has lobbied against school starting earlier than Labor Day. They say August start dates limit the availability of a teenaged workforce, while also limiting families' ability to schedule summer vacations. 

State Rep. Greg Forristal, a Republican from Macedonia, is the bill's floor manager. While he agrees it would be beneficial for high schools to have year-round calendars, he says compromise is necessary.

"Sometimes you have to take what you can get and work forward from there," Forristal says. "And this is one of those cases."

Current Iowa law bars schools from starting before the week of September 1, but allows districts to obtain a waiver for an earlier start. Governor Terry Branstad announced waivers would not be distributed for the 2015-2016 school year forcing the legislature to address the issue.

Now it's up to the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Democrat-controlled state Senate to agree on legislation. A final compromise is uncertain.