As we prepare for our own university classes to begin post-Labor Day, K-12 schools statewide are bypassing the law mandating the late start to the school year via a waiver from the Michigan Department of Education.
This loophole to the initial 2005 law - enacted by former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm alongside a Republican legislature with the tourism industry in mind - has rendered the law practically null and void. The amount of schools and school districts opting for the earlier start has increased significantly in recent years, increasing to 196 total school districts and charter schools from 154 requesting waivers in the last year alone.
The law mandating Michigan schools to begin the academic year after Labor Day was opposed by education advocacy groups and then-Rep. Gretchen Whitmer from its first consideration. Only a handful of similar laws exist nationwide, including the “King’s Dominion law” in Virginia, although Ohio and Maryland have attempted similar legislation.
Education advocacy groups and school districts have often argued against the law and have found more reasons over the last several years to defy it - including the 180-school-day mandate, alignment with early college programs and the push for a “balanced calendar.” I join them in their belief that the law should not exist.
I take this position because it prioritizes students over tourism. Rather than having an extensive summer break, students should enjoy a “balanced calendar” - meaning they should have a longer school year with breaks scattered in between. This scheme would not only reduce student burnout by allowing time to refresh and ruminate, but would also allow the new government mandate of 180 instructional days to fit more seamlessly. It would align better with the schedule of community colleges for early college programs and provide time outside of an instructional setting for students falling behind to find their footing. Finally, teachers could focus more time on new curriculum and less on review.
Even absent a “balanced calendar,” there really is no valid reasoning for prioritizing the tourism industry over students. Although more tax dollars - sometimes via tourism - are needed to keep schools open longer, there would still be ample time during the summer to arrange vacations. Also there is no data which suggests families won’t simply schedule their vacations earlier.
Additionally, the conditions which enabled the initial law are no longer present - the tourism industry is going strong regardless of the increase in waivers to bypass the law, especially in August and September. Finally, the survey used by the tourism industry outlining the economic benefits only covered one year immediately after the law was passed - nearly a decade ago - and was industry-funded.
Compromise on the issue has been attempted. A stipulation on August school days providing for a “long weekend”, or no classes held on Fridays or Mondays, was attempted in 2017, but the tourism industry didn’t bite. It would also cause headaches in terms of daycare for working parents and a myriad of other scheduling issues. Parents argue it should be “all or nothing” and I agree.
There are multiple solutions to this problem. If Michigan is serious about improving education rankings and prioritizing students in that endeavor, the legislature should scrap the post-Labor Day law and begin transitioning to a “balanced calendar” system.
Alternatively, the law should be scrapped in order for local municipalities to decide their course of action - they are certainly already trying via loopholes. The legislature should at least stop prioritizing the already well-off tourism industry over our struggling education system.