Some schools will be starting classes later under a bill signed into law last month by Governor Mike Parson (R).
Missouri law has allowed school districts to begin classes up to ten days before the first Monday in September, but an earlier start date could be set if a district’s board approves it in a public meeting. A provision in House Bill 604 repeals that provision, and allows districts to set start dates no earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September.
The provision was proposed by Lebanon Republican Jeff Knight, who said earlier start dates hurt two of the state’s top industries: tourism and agriculture.
“The tourism dollars that are lost in August because these schools start earlier and earlier and earlier was becoming significant,” said Knight. “There was some opposition from a lot of school groups talking about local control, but at the same time, we need those revenues to help fund schools.”
Knight said at least one study found a 30-percent decrease in July and August lodging tax collections at the Lake of the Ozarks over the last decade. He compared that to changes in school start dates and saw that in that time, many districts that had been starting after Labor Day ten years ago were now starting around the second week of August.
“Big Surf water park testified during the committee that they actually closed the Big Surf water park last year August 13. It wasn’t because people quit coming to Big Surf, it was more that all of their workers and employees were going back to school,” said Knight.
Knight said agriculture is also affected as students who would be working on farms are pulled away for classes during potential harvest periods.
Knight said what can’t be measured in dollar amounts or percentages are the family vacations that might be altered by earlier start dates, and the memories and experiences families could be having together by being allowed more time in the summer months. He said for many families, taking vacation in the spring simply isn’t as appealing.
“[School districts who opposed the change] would argue that we get out in the middle of May and you can make up for tourism in that, and my response was, ‘Have you ever jumped in the lakes or the rivers in the middle of May?’ They’re extremely cold … where in August, it’s still extremely hot.”
Knight, who is a former educator, said extending the start date cutoff from 10 to 14 days means districts can still start reasonably early.
“Ten days before the first Monday is a Friday. Well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to start school on a Friday. 14 days means you can start on a Monday, but you still gain, in some years, an extra weekend, and in some years, depending on how the holiday falls, two weekends,” said Knight.
The provision of HB 604 regarding schools’ start date doesn’t affect districts until the start of the 2020-21 school year.