- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa schools will be able to start the upcoming academic year no earlier than Aug. 23, under a compromise bill that was headed to the governor’s desk on Tuesday after Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal withdrew a procedural hold on the legislation.

The state House and Senate gave bipartisan approval to the plan, which sought to find a middle ground between those seeking to give school districts total control over their calendars and others - including Gov. Terry Branstad - who argued that early start dates hurt tourism.

But Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, stalled the bill in the Senate last week, citing concerns that high schools would be excluded from setting year-round calendars.

On Tuesday, Gronstal said it was time to move on, calling the legislation “a distraction.”

“We’re going to focus now on getting adequate funding for K-12 education,” he said. “I think there are a host of things in (the bill) that were wrong, but that’s sometimes how it goes around here.”



Branstad said the bill was a “reasonable compromise” and promised to sign it into law.

“It’s going to give stability to the school start date and I think it’s going to be a significant benefit to all concerned,” the governor said.

Under the legislation, schools could start no sooner than Aug. 23, though some school districts with year-round calendars would be exempt from the new rules. The bill excludes high schools from seeking such exemptions.

The debate over when school districts should start their calendar year spilled into the Legislature this session after the state 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. Branstad had complained about the practice, which meant that 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 have argued they need the flexible calendar to better cater to students with standardized testing, Advanced Placement courses and end-of-semester exams.

Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents about 34,000 teachers, support staff and other educators, criticized the compromise legislation in a statement.

“The Governor based his school start date proposal on Iowa’s tourism industry rather than on what is best for Iowa’s students,” Wawro said.

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