School Start Dates Have Nothing to Do With Tourism

(Not the first time and won't be the last that Iowa lawmakers get bogged down in a dispute based on a false premise. Click here to read the full text of the school start date bill and here for the bill history, which shows how it changed from the Iowa Senate version to what passed the House. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Dave Swenson 
We have a debate in the Iowa Assembly on constraining early school starts.  It arose after the Iowa Department of Education indicated it would no longer routinely approve school starts prior to the week containing the 1st day of September.  Governor Branstad weighed in as well indicating that early start dates negatively affected attendance at the State Fair and threatened tourism.   School districts squawked, and the legislature weighed-in. The current Iowa House bill wants no starts prior to the 23rd of August, which is around the time when the State Fair typically ends.  The Iowa Senate would allow districts to set school dates based on their localized preferences. Reconcilliation is in order.
Without citing any evidence at all, school start dates and tourism were pitted to be at odds with each other.  But it is a phony argument: there is no evidence that early start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa.   
Our state economy has two major dynamics that make it hum.  The first is you and I buying goods and services from one-another.  I buy your wares, you buy my services.  You and I are continually exchanging goods and services with one another.  My economy does not change in size at all, however, if I buy a service like in-state tourism in early August versus buying it in late August.  The only thing involved is timing, nothing else.   Furthermore, if a family does not spend its money on, say, a state or county fair or a trip to the Amanas, it will likely spend its money on some other recreational or consumer good in Iowa eventually.  Again, nothing has changed except for the kind and nominal timing of good or service purchased.
There is no positive or negative economic impact occurring. The economy stays the same.
The second dynamic is export sales.  Tourism, by definition, means you visit from someplace else.  Out-of-state tourists are considered true export sales for Iowa.  They in fact bring money into the state economy from the outside, and when they do so there is a multiplier effect, albeit a relatively small one.  Within-state tourism, staycations as they are called, shifts money from different parts of the Iowa economy, and there may be localized gains as a result.  But again, the state’s economy does not grow as a result; interior economic shifting is all that is occurring.  
With all that noted, early school starts have nothing to do with genuine tourism.  Out-of-state visitors don’t decline coming to Iowa because the schools are in session, and in-state tourism is unaffected by school start dates.
If in the end attendance at, and the status of, the Iowa State Fair is really all that people opposing early starts really care about, then asserting that spectacle's prerogative against that of all of the school districts in Iowa is quite a statement: a handful of special interests with the ear of the governor and a few legislators can completely thwart the abilities of dozens and dozens of Iowa school districts to determine the timing of educational services for their students and their families.
Local education control versus funnel cake sales: could that be what this boils down to? 
What a sham. 

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  • If school start later, won't they end later in the spring?

    What about tourism in late May-early June? Those folks must not have a pipeline to the Governor.

    a handful of special interests with the ear of the governor and a few legislators can completely thwart the abilities of dozens and dozens of Iowa school districts to determine the timing of educational services for their students and their families.

    • School start and the economy

      You got it. Pay at the end, pay at the beginning, the economy doesn’t care. But regardless, all households will consume some fixed amount of recreation and entertainment each year somewhere in Iowa irrespective of school start times.

      • I know of families

        who have spent less time at the Iowa State Fair because their kids had school starting around August 12-13, but surely that’s not a significant enough number of people to have any impact on the tourism sector of Iowa’s economy.  

  • It's more than that

    It’s also that if you send the kids back to school early, then the high school kids won’t be able to staff the tourist attraction area business (such as in the Lakes area).  The hard date for school start is a “compromise” from the State Fair folks. But other tourist areas really prefer school wait until Labor Day. It’s not going to help them keep college kids from going back to school earlier though, and that’s a lot of where their summer labor comes from.

    I think the businesses would be better off if they’d start focusing on early season — ready on Memorial Day, which is when the schools that start early get out. But they seem to write that off, as though that isn’t really vacation season. Well, it could be if you advertised in the right school districts. Of course, if their students started late, they may not have the workers.

    I know some of these lobbyists. They’ve worked the issue hard for a long time.  They weren’t winning in the legislature (education issues were), so they went to the Governor. Business always wins with the Governor. It hardly matters what their argument is; they just have to complain.

    In our family, it’s issues like AP classes and concurrent enrollment that are the real issue, though. The Senate talked about those; the House, not so much. It’s hard to argue that your administration is working to make education a top priority when you set your school start date according to the state fair, delay setting your education budget, and then set it to an amount that will cause most districts to cut programs and teachers.  The start date was an easy thing the Governor could have given to prove he was dedicated to education, rather than business interests. And stood up for local control in the process.  But he sold his soul a long time ago.

    • it makes no sense to me

      for Republicans to have zero respect for local control here. Greg Forristall said they changed the bill in the House because they need to pass something the governor would sign. But not really. With a bipartisan consensus for local control, there would be enough support in both chambers to override Branstad’s veto. I suspect that the House GOP leadership is sympathetic to the tourism lobby on this too.

      • For the record

        The House vote on SF 227 was 71-29. Two Republicans voted against leadership on the bill: Brian Best and Walt Rogers. In a strange twist, Democrat Patti Ruff offered an amendment to the bill which was accepted by the majority, then, she voted no on the bill. Maybe as a former school brd member, she just couldn’t push that yes button. You had Democrats praising the bill (Ourth) and bashing it to pieces (Mascher).

        The whole thing is strange…..GOP fronting a law which takes away local control in favor of a dictate from bureaucrats in Des Moines. A bizarro world.  

      • House leadership has been a reasonable bunch

        Though some of the stuff they’ve allowed to run this year makes me cringe. I remind myself it’s not an election year, and next year they’ll show better discipline. They do have to throw a bone now and then to some of their more extreme members, and this is the time period to do it. And those bills are just going to die in the Senate for the most part, anyway. But the words I’m hearing from leadership aren’t conciliatory and soothing and reasonable like they have been in the past.  It is very possible they’ve been friendly to the tourism lobby, while blaming the various committees and members for lack of support, due to their support for education issues (especially since, with multiple homeschoolers within leadership, they aren’t going to care about a school start date).

        Something makes me think they’ve never even entertained the idea of passing the original Senate bill, with its complete local control, and daring the Governor to veto it. Philosophically, even if they had the votes to override, the politics of overriding a veto wouldn’t set well with that caucus, even on the issue of local control.  They’re too buttoned-up and by-the-rule. House D’s would do it – there’s a hint of rebellion and fight in them, and they’d be almost pleased to override a veto.  But not the R’s.  They’d feel ashamed of doing that to the Governor, even on a local control issue. It’s an authoritarian thing, I think.  

  • Haven't heard anything, but...

    Does the heavy-handed manner in which the waiver issue was dealt with by the Governor’s office have anything to do with why the Director of the Department of Education is leaving to go back and be a Superintendent?  The timing of it all seems more than a little coincidental. And the way it was all dictated to him (the rule looks like it came straight from the Governor’s legal counsel, though no one has said that), as so against good education policy, had to be difficult.  But I’m speculating.  Has anyone heard anything solid, one way or the other?

    • I have no idea

      but Brad Buck has worked in the education field for a long time. I would guess that he understands very well why most school districts have moved up the start date, and may not have been too happy about having to bring down the hammer on them. It’s embarrassing when the Department of Education acts as a proxy for the tourism industry instead of doing what’s best for Iowa students.

      This is all speculation. I have no information on why Buck sought the superintendent’s job in Cedar Rapids.