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Pre-Labor Day school start? New education bill would give districts that option

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The new education budget bill negotiated by Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders would give school districts in Minnesota the option to start school this fall before Labor Day.

As of now, state law requires most schools to wait until after Labor Day to begin classes.

This year, that won't be until Sept. 8, because Labor Day is the latest it can ever be. A few districts have asked for exemptions to begin school earlier. But the budget bill grants that flexibility to all school districts, according to the Associated Press.

The measure would allow schools to start on Sept. 1, but just for this coming school year.

The debate over when to start the school year emerges every so often in the Legislature, KSTP reports.

On one side are school boards and administrators who want the flexibility to decide for themselves when to start school. On the other side is the powerful tourism industry, which argues for a post-Labor Day start to stretch the summer vacation season as long as possible and to allow teenagers to work at summer tourism jobs, including those at the Minnesota State Fair.

School districts can request waivers from the state Department of Education to start classes before Labor Day, and KSTP notes that Minneapolis, Bloomington, Richfield, Stillwater and St. Cloud have already received approval.

Smaller districts in rural areas, like the Eden Valley-Watkins, also asked for a waiver. Superintendent Mark Messman told KSTP the earlier date will give his district some flexibility in case a bad winter requires several snow days.

He told the station that the waiver process was quite cumbersome and he doesn't know if it would be worth doing again.

The education bill also allows school districts that have four-day academic weeks to keep that calendar through the 2019-20 school year, according to the Associated Press.

Assuming that Gov. Dayton signs the bill, it's not clear how many school districts would take advantage of the opportunity since most all of them set their academic calendar for the coming school year months ago and it may be difficult to rework it at this late date.

The measure increases funding for public education in Minnesota by $525 million over the next two years. It needs to be approved by legislators in a special session and signed by the governor to become law. Dayton had vetoed an earlier version of the bill that didn't include the level of funding he wanted.

A date for the special session has not been set. But it must occur before July 1 to avoid a partial shutdown of state government.

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