- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The state would retain control over when school districts in Iowa could start their calendar year under a bill passed Tuesday by the Iowa House, a move that reverses course from legislation approved in the Senate and sets up conflict over what may happen next.

The House voted 71-29 in support of a bill that would require school districts in Iowa to start classes no earlier than Aug. 23. The House bill changes legislation passed in the Senate, which would give school districts local control over when to start.

Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia and floor manager of the legislation in the House, said the bill was the best compromise date he could get with support from Gov. Terry Branstad.

“Sometimes you have to take what you can get and work forward from there,” Forristall said during debate.

The House bill, which now heads back to the Senate, would allow some school districts with year-round calendars to be exempt from the new rules. But Democrats criticized the bill as excluding high schools from seeking such exemptions. Others said the proposed start date would also force school districts to no longer be aligned with local colleges that allow courses for high school students.

“We’ve seized the local control, and we’ve stepped in big time as government,” said Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids.

The Senate is expected to oppose the revamped bill, which some Democrats in the House alluded to during debate. That may force lawmakers to discuss the issue in a special committee.

“I know this bill is not done,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City. “It will not pass in this version in the Senate … today my vote is no, I’m hopeful that in the future it can be a yes vote.”

Forristall said after the vote that he does not expect the governor’s office to budge on Aug. 23.

The issue over when school districts in the state should start their calendar year boiled over into the Legislature this session after the state Department of Education, over complaints from Branstad, announced plans late last year to stop issuing automatic waivers that for years allowed districts to bypass current state law which requires districts to start around Sept. 1. Last year, 336 of the 338 school districts in Iowa requested a waiver to start classes early.

Branstad has said earlier start times affect tourism and attendance at the popular Iowa State Fair. School educators say they need the flexible calendar to better cater to students with standardized testing, Advanced Placement courses and end-of-semester exams.

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