Editorial: The best way to decide school start is locally

Published 8:43 am Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It’s been one of the great Minnesota debates: Ma and Pa resorts vs. schools. In the 1980s, during an economic downturn, the Legislature passed a law forbidding schools from starting classes before Labor Day.

The move came after lobbying from Northern Minnesota resort owners and the State Fair. They argued the law would give families an end-of-year, three-day weekend to vacation or go to the fair and it allows kids to work at resorts or the fair through the end of the season.

Now, a group of 25 school districts in southwestern Minnesota is seeking a waiver from the state to start classes before Labor Day.

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It’s hard to demonize anyone in this debate. The economic importance of tourism and the fair — to the state and particularly struggling Northern Minnesota — is immense.

But the schools argue, reasonably, that with more mandatory high-stakes tests for students, getting an earlier jump on classes is important. With schools being penalized for failing to meet certain student achievement standards, preparing for such tests is increasingly important.

The earlier start also aligns high schools with college calendars, which is important for high school kids enrolled in post-secondary option classes.

While economics are important, local educational control should win out. At a time when more federal and state requirements are put on schools, school boards are best able to decide what is the best starting date for their students.

An even better option would be to pass a law introduced last year be DFL state Rep. Kim Norton of Rochester. Her bill would have allowed schools to start before Labor Day only if they guaranteed they’d give their pupils the Thursday and Friday before the holiday off.

It’s a good compromise that fell just short of passing the House. It’s a bill that should be revisited.

— The Free Press of Mankato, March 1