It’s time to legislate school starts

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The trend towards earlier school starts is killing family boating summers. It may be time to push back.

I recall my many family boating vacations in August. The waters of the Great Lakes were the warmest for swimming, the weather usually hot but stable, and we would have a great time cruising to different ports.

But that can’t happen today in many states because schools have been steadily cutting back on summer. Florida, for example, recently passed legislation to open schools as early as Aug. 10. Places like Georgia and Arizona can start Aug. 1.

Legislation to move school starts back to post-Labor Day is being pushed in a number of states and it begs the question: Should dealers and their state marine trade associations be more engaged in such efforts? The answer is yes. At least that’s the feeling in Ohio, for example.

Neighboring Michigan passed such legislation a few years ago and has seen the benefits to businesses and the state’s treasury. Indeed, 11 states now require schools to open after Labor Day and others are trying to move in that direction.

Pending legislation in Ohio is being strongly supported by the Boating Associations of Ohio, working with other groups that see and want the benefits of getting family summers back. A majority of Ohio voters, including both parents and teachers, support starting the school year later in the summer — in contrast to a statewide trend that has more districts opening earlier, as early as the first week of August, according an Ohio Travel Association report.

The association’s survey found 71 percent of voters said schools shouldn't start before the end of August. “What was most remarkable about this survey is that this support cuts across partisan, geographic and demographic lines,” said Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies, the firm that conducted the poll. “It’s rare to have an issue with such overwhelming and broad support.”

Specifically, 59 percent of Ohio voters prefer a school start date after Labor Day, and 12 percent prefer school starting the fourth week of August. That’s 71 percent of voters who are saying school shouldn’t start before the end of August.

Among the reasons cited: a later school start is good for the Ohio economy. A more unified and later school start boosts travel-related expenditures, feeds small businesses and increases the state’s tax coffers, as Michigan has documented following its mandated change.

Such action also supports workforce development. Many Ohio marinas and dealerships, as well as farms, hotels, restaurants, attractions, shops and transportation services, depend on having an adequate summer workforce. With workers returning to school earlier and earlier, businesses are cutting hours and shortening operating seasons due to lack of employees. In addition, high temperatures in August make learning more difficult and school air conditioning problems are common.

The survey also revealed the common misconception that teachers want an earlier start. In the study, teachers and parents support a bill in the Ohio General Assembly for post-Labor Day openings. Sixty-five percent of teachers supported the bill, as did 61 percent of parents. Interestingly, 71 percent of teachers surveyed also said they’d never been asked their preference for a start date.

States like Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia have laws like this and can produce convincing data that a post-Labor Day school start is an all-around winner for families, boating businesses, employees and the state coffers. It’s time more states got on board.

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