Bill would let Michigan schools start in August without state approval
- Michigan currently does not allow public school districts to start before Labor Day unless they obtain a state waiver
- Democratic-sponsored legislation would remove the waiver requirement
- A similar bill was introduced in 2021 by a Republican lawmaker
Michigan schools may soon be able to start their school years before Labor Day without having to get a state waiver under a Democratic-sponsored bill.
House Bill 4671 would amend a 2005 law by removing a requirement that districts that plan to start before Labor Day apply for a waiver from the state, receive a waiver approval and hold a public hearing on the topic.
Supporters of the bill say that removing the waiver process makes it easier for local school districts to determine what works best for their communities.
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Opponents say having schools start before Labor Day harms the state tourism industry by reducing the number of families vacationing up through Labor Day weekend.
Currently, intermediate and local school districts and charter schools can apply for three-year waivers that allow them to start before Labor Day. About 87 percent of local districts across the state could have started their 2022-2023 school years before Labor Day thanks to a local or intermediate district waiver, according to a Bridge analysis of state waiver information.
John McNamara, vice president of government affairs at the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, told the House Education Committee Tuesday that losing one weekend of tourism could cause a lot of his members “some sleepless nights.”
He said teenagers learn soft skills while working summer jobs including being on time, wearing a uniform and how to be part of a team.
“There's a lot of education (that) goes on outside of the classroom, and the hospitality industry is happy to be able to provide that for countless young people across the country.”
McNamara said he opposes the bill as written but would be open to an amendment where schools that start before Labor Day would not hold school on Mondays and Fridays until after the holiday.
Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, which supports the legislation, said there are already several factors that interfere with August vacations, including summer practices for fall sports and band that often begin in early August.
“I think this legislation gets us back to that place where that local community, whether it be Up North or somewhere else, makes a decision that says ‘this is when we think it is best for our students, for learning, for jobs, for other things to have the school calendar.’”
Matt Schueller, director of government relations at the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, said Tuesday that some districts may choose to start before Labor Day to “combat learning loss from having a longer summer” or other reasons.
It’s possible that if the bill passes, school districts may choose to start earlier and more families will take vacations at the beginning of the summer.
But McNamara told Bridge that’s complicated by the fact that early June weather can be less reliably warm than July and August weather.
“You can count on July and August, you can’t count on June to be that perfect Midwest summer weather,” he said.
A Bridge analysis found that for the upcoming school year, 29 intermediate school districts have a waiver, meaning that hundreds of schools can choose to start before the holiday. There are also 31 traditional school districts and 86 charter schools that have waivers that allow them to start before Labor Day in the next school year.
An additional 18 intermediate school districts have waivers that expire after the 2022-2023 school year and would need to reapply to start before Labor Day. Kent, Ottawa, Kalamazoo and Washtenaw intermediate school districts are part of this group.
Similar bills have been introduced in previous sessions. In 2021, Pamela Hornberger, then-chair of the House Education Committee, introduced a similar bill. The measure passed the committee 9-2 with two Northern Michigan Republicans voting against it. But the bill did not receive a floor vote in the Republican-led House.
Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report.
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