- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Some Iowa lawmakers said they’ll back legislation to block a move by the Department of Education to stop letting school districts get automatic waivers allowing them to begin classes earlier in the summer.

Lawmakers from both parties said they would support legislation reducing state oversight and letting districts decide when school should begin, The Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/13tAskj ) Tuesday.

“We ought to give local school boards the authority to set start dates based on the best educational interests of the students,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Herman Quirmbach, an Ames Democrat. “I don’t know why we would try to override the judgment of the local school boards.”

Iowa law requires that districts begin school no earlier than the calendar week that includes Sept. 1, but nearly all seek and receive waivers to start earlier. For the current school year, all but two of Iowa’s 338 school districts received a waiver and some started as early as Aug. 11.

This month, Education Department Director Brad Buck informed districts that the agency would stop automatically approving waiver requests. The move came after Gov. Terry Branstad sent a letter to Buck, complaining that districts weren’t abiding by the law and that an early start date “unnecessarily interferes” with families’ summer plans, seasonal hiring and participation in the Iowa State Fair.

Iowa’s tourism industry and state fair have long complained they were hurt by early school starts.

House Education Committee Chairman Ron Jorgensen, a Sioux City Republican, said he supports leaving start dates to local school districts, though he’ll discuss the matter with other Republicans before backing legislation.

Osage Republican Rep. Josh Byrnes, who also serves on the Education Committee, said superintendents in his district are “jacked up” about the change, and he’s ready to give local districts control of their start dates.

On Monday, Branstad said he was willing to talk with legislators about the change.

“A lot of people felt this was not fair and not right and it was contrary to our law, so I took the action I thought was appropriate,” Branstad said. “But I’m certainly willing to discuss with legislators if there’s a compromise.”

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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