DES MOINES (AP) — Starting classes before September would be more difficult for Iowa school districts under a proposal that the State Board of Education will consider Thursday.
The Iowa Department of Education proposed the new rule, which would address an issue highlighted by Gov. Terry Branstad.
State law now requires districts to start school no earlier than the calendar week that includes Sept. 1, but most districts seek waivers allowing them to begin earlier.
Branstad has called the current policy too lax and said starting school earlier hurts Iowa's tourism industry.
State officials note that in the 2012-13 school year, all but eight of the state's 348 school districts received waivers to start early.
Matt Adams, assistant superintendent for the Ankeny schools, said his district plans to begin classes Aug. 15, which lets students finish their first semester before winter break, he said.
“We, as a school district, know what goals we want to accomplish, and having the ability to create a school calendar can really help you accomplish your goals,” Adams said.
The new rule would require districts wanting to start up to seven days early to have school boards hold public hearings and approve resolutions saying a later start date would harm education.
Districts that wanted to start earlier would need to document the harm of a later start date and back up the claim with test scores, budget information and staffing data.
The new rule would begin for the 2014-2015 academic year.
“The idea that everybody should get a waiver without showing anything — which is what it's evolved into — that doesn't seem to comply with the law,” said Mike Cormack, an Education Department policy liaison. “But on the other side of the argument, the law does allow for waivers. It does allow for exceptions.”
Some education groups have questioned the proposal, saying it would be difficult for districts to meet the standard for beginning classes more than a week earlier.
Mary Gannon, an attorney for the Iowa Association of School Boards, said the requirement for starting more than a week early was “so egregious we can't fathom any school district could even reach it.”
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