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Missouri Lawmakers Set Later Start Date For Schools

Children play in a fountain in front of the Gateway Arch's new visitor center Tuesday, July 3, 2018, before a ceremony to re-open the park grounds after a multi-year renovation project.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Children play in the reflecting pool in front of the Gateway Arch's visitor center on July 3, 2018.

Back to school will be a little later in Missouri next year if lawmakers get their way.

The Missouri General Assembly passed a law pushing school start dates back about a week over the opposition of school administrators. It’s part of an effort to encourage families to fit one more weekend of trips to amusement parks and lakeside cabins around the state.

Tourism and business advocates say it will increase revenue to an important part of the state’s economy.

Schools currently can start no sooner than 10 days before the first Monday in September. The bill, if it’s signed by Gov. Mike Parson, would change that to 14 days. The previous law, however, had a commonly used exemption allowing school districts to set an earlier first day of the school if they hold a public hearing. The new law eliminates that exemption.

Calendars for the 2019-2020 school year are already set. The law will impact the school year beginning in 2020, when schools won’t be allowed to begin until Aug. 24. St. Louis Public Schools is scheduled to begin school Aug. 12 of this year.

Increasing control over the school year calendar is a breach of local control, school administrators across the state say, arguing what works well for a first day of school in an urban district is different than a rural one.

The Mexico school district already decided to experiment with a later start date. School next year will begin Aug. 21, a week later than the Aug. 15 start date of last year, to allow for kids to participate in agricultural events at the state fair.

“We’re going to try it,” said spokeswoman Marci Minor. “The school start date has kind of crept forward a little bit more the last several years, so we’re going to try this and see how it works for us.”

Business and visitor organizations have been lobbying against the school-start creep for “a long time,” said K.C. Cloke, the executive director of the Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, which represents the eastern half of the Lake of the Ozarks.

“One week at the lake that’s tourism-driven has a huge impact on the region,” she said.

About 3.5 million people visit the Lake of the Ozarks area between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to the chamber.

“It’s going to allow an additional week of vacationing, family time, people being able to visit the lake compared to what we’ve had before,” Cloke said.

The number of instructional hours kids are required to be in school is not changing, and so while summer vacation will push later into August, administrators point out starting later will only increase the likelihood school will stretch past Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, especially if schools run over their built in number of inclement weather days.

“When you do have snow days and you have to account for those, now you get into, 'What’s our attendance going to look like on some of these days?'” said Affton Superintendent Travis Bracht.

The later start date could also affect fall athletics schedules and make it difficult for schools to wrap up the first semester before the holiday recess, meaning students would take mid-term exams in January.

“They’re hitting the book for three-and-a-half months, and all of the sudden they’re away from their studies for a week and a half or two. So that creates a problem,” said David Luther, spokesman for the Missouri Association of School Administrators.

Minor, the communications director from Mexico schools, said their students will be excited come mid-July to find out they have more than a month of vacation left, but “where we run into problems is whenever we come to the end of the school year.”

That’s when kids will be bummed to find school dragging toward the end of May.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.