Lawmakers divided over school start date bill

LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — A record number of Michigan school districts received waivers to head back to school before Labor Day, but there are efforts in Lansing that would disband the need for them.

Senate Bill 271 would repeal a state mandate that schools must have a post-holiday start. Thus, there would be no need for schools to apply for waivers if they wanted to begin early.

However, the bill has sat idle for about five months.

Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, told 24 Hour News 8 that he believes it’s because the legislation — which passed out of the Senate Education Committee — doesn’t have enough votes to pass through the Senate. He is one of the lawmakers opposed to the bill.

“A standard policy is good,” he said.

Hildenbrand emphasized his concerns for what effect the bill might have on state tourism. He said tourism is one of the top two economic drivers in the state. The Kent County lawmaker likes things how things are right now.

“It’s a balance,” Hildenbrand said. “You have the standard policy, but then you also have districts with the ability to make their case for a waiver if they have unique scheduling situations in their district.”

Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, sponsored the bill and sees it having “zero effect on tourism.” He hopes to secure the votes to push the bill through for next school year.

Knollenberg told 24 Hour News 8 that he heard from parents and superintendents, who want schools to line up with things like fall sports, college dual enrollment and band camp.

“If a school district likes starting after Labor Day, we’re simply saying that’s OK, that’s your choice,” Knollenberg said. “If a school district wants to start before Labor Day, we’re saying you should have that choice.”

Knollenberg believes schools want that power, noting the record number of schools receiving waivers this year to begin classes early.

“You’re requiring that a local school district go through a series of hoops and hurdles to get ultimately what they’re seeking,” Knollenberg said.

He also said that he compromised by amending the bill, adding that students can’t be in class on Fridays or Fridays in August.

Hildenbrand said he doesn’t think there’s enough support in Lansing to repeal the current law.