Wisconsin Could Get an Early Jump on Back-to-School Dates

Wisconsin school districts could soon have more flexibility in choosing their fall start date.  Under current law, Wisconsin public schools are prohibited from starting fall classes until September 1.

The state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) can grant school board requests for an exemption to start school early for “extraordinary reasons.”

Now, an administrative rule is working its way through the Legislature that would expand the types of reasons for DPI to grant an exception for school districts.  If approved, exceptions would include factors that pertain to student graduation rates, reading and mathematics proficiency, school attendance, mental health of students and staff, and recruitment and retention strategies for educators.

The Tourism Federation of Wisconsin has long been against the change, saying repealing the September 1 start date for public schools would lead to a loss in revenue for Wisconsin’s businesses.

Several members of the tourism industry testified against the change this week.

Bill Elliott, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents approximately 600 members, said changing the start date for schools won’t fix the problems facing education.

“At the same time, the changes would have a negative impact on the lodging industry and all the other businesses that make up Wisconsin’s tourism economy,” Elliot said. “Starting school before Sept. 1 shortens the Wisconsin summer for vacations and travel by families with school aged children, which negatively impacts the already short tourism season.”

Minnesota and Michigan have state laws that prohibit schools from starting until after Labor Day.  School boards have autonomy in Illinois.

State Representative Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, said DPI should not get to change the rules, the Legislature should.

“Tourism is a big part of our economy here in Wisconsin and many, many families depend on that,” Kitchens said. “But it’s not just good for business. It’s good for families. I mean, my kids will tell you that the vacations that we took together as a family were some of their best memories, and I think it also played a big part of enhancing their education.”