JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The question over when the school year should start in Missouri may be answered by the state legislature, with a bill that has cleared the Missouri House, and was approved by the Senate on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. House Bill 161 still needs to be finally agreed upon in the House, and then would be sent to the governor's desk.
The bill is praised by many in the tourism industry, but has left others with concerns; they say the start date of a local school district should be decided on a local level.
HB 161 would prohibit local school districts in Missouri from setting an opening date for the school term that is more than 14 calendar days prior to the first Monday in September. HB 161, sponsored by Missouri House of Representative Jeff Knight 129 (R-Lebanon), was approved, after the number of days was amended from 10 to 14.
Supporters of HB 161 include tourism officials and groups representing tourism-related businesses such as amusement park operators, hotel and campground owners and river outfitters.
Rep. Knight said the main reason for the law was to generate tourism revenue. “The major concern for schools every year is being fully funded and school districts need to understand how important tourism is to state revenue,” Rep. Knight said. “When a school district starts school on the first or second week of August they are cutting into the tourism season.”
According to Rep. Knight, most Missouri school districts were starting on or about Aug. 13. With this new law, the three-or-four-day later start date may add an extra weekend to the tourism calendar for many Missouri families. “People from the Lake of the Ozarks should understand the considerable amount of revenue lodging alone generates in one weekend,” he said.
Opponents of the change include the Missouri National Education Association, the Missouri State Teachers Association and the School Administrators Coalition. They say the ability to start earlier allows schools to hold classes in June to make up for snow days, give final exams before winter break and gives additional time before standardized tests in the spring.
The new law will not affect Lake of the Ozarks area school start dates, as the School of the Osage, Morgan County R-II and the Camdenton R-III School Districts have historically started two weeks before Labor Day and will continue to start two weeks before Labor Day.
However, some feel this is another layer of government control and they do not agree with the government saying when their students can begin classes.
“Our board feels this is a local issue,” Camdenton R-III School District Superintendent Tim Hadfield commented. “Local boards represent their own communities, and communities are unique, and they all have different needs. We believe this decision should be left up to local elected officials.”
Superintendent Hadfield said his district has worked with the area chambers of commerce in the past in an effort to protect the first three full weekends in August. “We want to balance, as a school district, when we start, with the needs of the local community. With the Lake having a service-tourism economy, many of our students work summer jobs and local businesses have an interest in our labor force, and students are a part of that. We also know typically, colleges and universities will begin at about the same time as we do with their classes, and we want to coincide. This is also the same time many students come back to campus for fall activities, such as sports and band practice.”
School start dates were originally brought up by the legislature as an agricultural issue. Family farms needed their students home the extra days for farm work. “The Missouri State Fair is the showcase of our state, and schools starting earlier and earlier affected some of our AG students' ability to enter their products or animals in competitions,” Rep. Knight explained.
In 2006, Missouri lawmakers passed a bill giving school districts the authority to set their own calendars, if they hold a public hearing.
Rep. Knight said there had been a push for local control. “We gave them local control when we changed the amount of required days from hours to minutes,” Rep. Knight said. Previously, Missouri schools were required to be in session for a minimum of 174 days and 1,044 hours each year, but a law passed in July 2018 eliminated the required number of minimum days, focusing solely on the number of hours instead. “If they have a seven-period school day and they add five minutes to each period, they can gain a week in one semester,” Rep. Knight explained. Before, schools that had fewer school days on the calendar that missed a day in the winter, added a day at the end of the school year. Now, schools have the option of spreading that time out.