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The fight to keep summer vacation

Here's a tale of two states — Florida and Michigan — and the need to keep summer from ending early. One state is winning, the other is not. Both have big impacts on boating.

First, in Florida it was just announced that schools will be allowed to open as early as Aug. 10, two or more weeks earlier than before, with teachers reporting even earlier on Aug. 1. The legislature, apparently unnoticed, passed a new state law enabling school districts to set early opening dates. As a result, some districts will now start at the earliest Aug. 10 date, other adjacent districts a few days later, etc. So much for consistency.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, a leading state among those that have mandated traditional post-Labor Day school openings, supporters must be ever-vigilant to stand against those who would repeal or revise their law. Indeed, the Michigan Boating Industries Association, which strongly advocated for passage of the school-opening law in 2005, has been essentially defending it ever since.

"It's a priority for us," MBIA executive director Nicki Polan said. "Seems lately there’s always some lawmaker being pushed to change it. Just this past week we were asked to reach out to a state senator to provide information and make it clear the law is in the best interest of our industry and the state." (There’s a bill in the Michigan Senate called SB567.)

Basically, the MBIA recognized more than a decade ago that school openings were steadily creeping up, resulting in an early end to summer family activities like boating. It was obvious that the start of school ended the positive impact of summer vacation boating. Even more, the whole state’s tourism industry that annually generates more than $19.5 billion in domestic visitor spending while employing 214,000 Michiganders was being negatively impacted.

No question the economic impact is huge and boating is a part of that impact. For example, a Tennessee study estimated that if summer was extended through Labor Day, an additional $189 million would be generated in tourist spending. In Iowa, reports say it loses an estimated $314 million in revenue during the three weeks nearly all the state's school open ahead of Labor Day, according to the Travel Federation of Iowa.

This year bills concerning school openings have been introduced in at least four states — Minnesota, Texas, Alabama and Maryland. In the latter, Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot commissioned a study on how much revenue would be generated if schools began after Labor Day. It found the change would bring a whopping $74.3 million economic boost to the state. “That extra revenue would generate $7.7 million in additional state and local tax revenue without spending a single dollar of taxpayer money," he said.

Currently, there are 17 states with some restrictions on when school years can start. But they vary widely. So, as much as anything else, it's really a turf issue. The school start-date mandate "appears to be based on purely economic reasons," said a teacher-school board association letter to Maryland's governor. Yes, it sure is that, because the boost in spending and the overwhelming benefits of family summer activities in August are well-documented. Conversely, there are no studies that indicate starting the school year before Labor Day has any impact — negative or positive — on students' academic achievement. Any argument to the contrary would be like trying to rebrand Motel 6 by changing the shower curtain.

Bottom line: For the boating business, reducing family summer vacation time hurts our industry and the people who work in it. Perhaps it’s time our marine trade associations around the country consider taking a page from Michigan’s playbook and become engaged in all efforts to maintain or move back to the traditional post-Labor Day school openings. So, let me ask you: when is the opening day of school in your state?


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