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Pre-Labor Day School Bill Moves

April 5, 2017

Courtesy MIRS News

Over the objections of the state’s tourism industry, the Senate Education Committee voted 4-1 Tuesday to report out SB 0271, legislation to end the state’s 11-year-old prohibition against school districts starting their school years prior to Labor Day without a Department of Education waiver.

This issue pits the education community against the tourist industry and key business groups. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan both oppose the bill. 

Under the legislation, except for specified exceptions, schools would be prohibited from being in session on any Monday or Friday in August — thus assuring that the Labor Day holiday will fall on a four-day weekend. The substitute version of the bill adopted by the committee Tuesday added the exceptions. 

“What may have been a good idea 11 years ago, may not be a good idea today,” said Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy), as he explained his bill to the committee. “Arguments from both sides of this issue show that one-size-fits-all doesn’t work.” 

“Allowing districts to start before Labor Day doesn’t mean that we don’t support tourism,” Knollenberg continued. “If this (allowing school years to start before Labor Day) is working in 47 states, it can and will work here.” 

Testifying in opposition to the bill, Diana Richeson of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association cited an Anderson Economic Group study, covering the first two years of the pre-Labor Day school start prohibition, which showed the prohibition has had a significantly positive impact on state tourism. 

“Hotel revenues increased an average of $20,000,” Richeson said. “And the largest benefit was in Southeast Michigan.” 

Richeson also said that, according to polling, 64 percent of Michigan voters support the prohibition against starting school prior to Labor Day. She also argued that schools’ claims of problems complying with the current law don’t hold water because they could compensate by ending their school years at later dates. 

“They’re currently concluding their school years in late May or early June,” Richeson pointed out. 

Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St Clair), the chair of the committee, posed an apparently awkward question to Richeson. 

“Between the more than tens of millions of dollars we spend on PureMichigan or the post-Labor Day start, if you had the choice of one or the other, which would you choose? 

“I wouldn’t want to choose,” Richeson responded. 

Alicia URBAIN, vice president of governmental and legal affairs with the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, testified in favor of the legislation, arguing that school officials need the freedom to determine what will best serve their school district’s circumstances. 

“Schools should have as much flexibility as possible to meet the needs of their community,” Urbain said. “Jalen Rose Academy (one of the most successful public school academies in Michigan) is in school 211 days a year, but they had to ask for permission to do so.” 

Sen. Darwin BOOHER (R-Evart), who ended up being to lone committee member to vote against SB 271, asked Urbain how early she thought schools would start their school years. 

“If this bill passes, do you think some schools will start on the 1st of August?” Booher asked. 

Urbain said she didn’t believe that most would start that early. 

“Starting one week before Labor Day — in my opinion — really hasn’t made much difference,” Booher said. “I really don’t think they (the schools) accomplish much (in that short period of time) anyway.” 

Farmington Public Schools Superintendent George HEITSCH testified that the prohibition against starting school years prior to Labor Day has become a barrier to education and other considerations, and needs to take a backseat to education. 

“The concern for our students must trump other concerns,” Heitsch said. 

Peter SPADAFORE, associate executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators (MASA), told the committee that SB 0271 would once again allow school districts to control their scheduling. 

“This legislation is about restoring local control to our communities,” Spadafore said. “It will return the decision to the schools.” 

In opposition to the bill, Camille JOURDEN, of Michigan Adventure, said allowing schools to start before Labor Day would have a very negative effect on Michigan’s Adventure because of its impact on student employees. 

“Michigan’s Adventure is West Michigan’s largest tourist attraction,” Jourden said. “We employ over 1,300 ‘associates’ and over 760 are high school students.” 

Knollenberg pointed out that under the bill, the Labor Day holiday would still be a four-day weekend. He then asked Jourden if she’d rather have policy dictated from the state level, with the current prohibition, or set by local school districts. 

Jourden said the decisions of school districts in other parts of the state would be impacting Michigan’s Adventure because they’d affect whether or not tourists travelled that weekend. 

Kate MOORE of the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association testified against the bill, pointing out that golf courses supply jobs for 58,000 employees and have a $4.2 billion impact on Michigan’s economy. Moorse said golf courses employ a lot of high school and college students.

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