DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa House subcommittee on Wednesday decided to table HSB 574. The bill would allow schools to control their start date, including transitioning to year-round school without a waiver.
State Reps. Tom Moore, R-Griswold, Holly Brink, R-Oskaloosa, and Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, decided that more discussion was needed after hearing support from school advocates but strong opposition from tourism groups.
Current law states that Iowa schools can not start class sooner than August 23 without a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education, a recent compromise that allowed schools to start class earlier but kept students on summer break during the Iowa State Fair. Also, elementary schools currently can request a waiver to offer year-round school, but high schools cannot.
The bill was introduced by State Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, chairman of the Iowa House Education Committee.
Margaret Buckton with the Urban Education Network of Iowa said she supported the bill because research has found that year-round school helps stop the “summer slide” with English language learners and special needs students.
“It’s important to work with communities and childcare providers and staff and the local economy to figure out what is the best fit for all of these things. And we trust our school boards to make those decisions in the best interest of their students and their taxpayers,” she stated.
Craig Patterson with Okoboji Tourism opposed the bill, stating it would hurt their local economy and shrink tax revenue that goes to public schools.
“As it stands right now, every day that Okoboji loses from that summer season, it’s over a million dollars in revenues that doesn’t come in,” he said. “The way our school funding formula works. That’s, you know, half of that basically, is school funding. So if you look at the tourism industry statewide, you know, that’s a lot of money that actually feeds directly into funding education.”
Dave Daughton, representing Rural School Advocates of Iowa, appealed to local control.
“We feel like local school board should be able to make that decision no matter what. If they want to start in August, they should be able to do that. We think local school boards elected school boards can make those decisions based on the needs of their community,” he said.
Representatives from the Iowa Association of School Boards and the Iowa Catholic Conference also supported the change. However, lobbyists for the Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association, Adventureland Park, Iowa State Fair, and Travel Federation of Iowa opposed it.
“The tourism economy gave over $864 million to the state. So when you cut into any of that time or those months, take months away from tourism, you’re cutting into the state’s revenue,” Brittney Lumley with Travel Federation of Iowa said. “Plus, with these last two years, obviously, the hospitality has been hit pretty hard, not just in Iowa, but across the nation.”
Gaines and Brink said they could see both sides of the issue. Moore said it was a complex issue.
“We don’t want to infringe on our business partners that are that are paying the taxes and making the money,” he said, adding they also want local school boards to make the best decision for their community.
“So it’s a catch 22 situation, I guess. So at this point, I think we’ll just table this. I appreciate the discussion,” Moore said, concluding the meeting and indicating the Legislature would probably revisit the topic when year-round school becomes a “more pressing issue.”