School’s almost out; when should we return?

As the 2018-19 school year winds down in the weeks ahead, when do you believe districts should send students back to class?

Michigan is one of only three states in the country that mandate school starts after Labor Day. This year, Labor Day is Monday, Sept. 2, making most school starts for districts in the state Tuesday, Sept. 3.

Next year, however, Labor Day won’t be until Sept. 7.

Despite the holiday requirement, the state in recent years has relaxed its school start standards to some degree, and districts can apply for a pre-Labor Day waiver. Many local districts have done so and have been awarded the earlier start. The wisdom of that is evident this year, as northern Michigan districts missed a lot of school through the winter because of the weather. Already, school days have been extended further out into June than many would have liked, but the situation would have been worse for the districts who started school after Labor Day.

The whole Labor Day argument centers around the tourism industry and state economy. With the state having a very short tourism season — especially Up North — the thinking was to keep the season going as long as possible. And, since much of the industry relies on seasonal and temporary workers, many of whom are students, it made sense to delay the start of school to benefit the students and the businesses they worked for.

The counter-arguments are: Does is really make a difference between starting school after Labor Day if that means staying in school further into the spring? And, what about college students? As most colleges begin in early to mid-August, so much of that help to mercahnts is lost, anyway.

How important are teenagers to the seasonal tourism industry?

This week, officials with the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget said there will be a number of job opportunities for teenagers willing to work the months of June, July and August, but the competition for those jobs will be stiff this summer.

Department officials said 208,200 teenagers in Michigan, aged 16 to 19, are projected to find jobs this summer. Unfortunately, another 38,200 will seek work but remain unemployed.

The whole “when to start school” debate might return to the Legislature this year.

Two bills have been introduced — by state Reps. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield, and Steven Johnson, R-Wayland — that would return the issue to the hands of local school boards. The bills would allow each school district to determine when it would be best to start a school year. Districts with a large tourism base could start after Labor Day, while districts without that concern could start before.

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, of which the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce is a member, is on record against the bills. And why wouldn’t they be, when economic statistics show local communities benefit when the start of school is delayed until after Labor Day.

The study most often referred to on the subject was done by the Anderson Economic Group in September 2016 for the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association.

Those researchers found that, in 2007, the first year after post-Labor Day start of school was enacted, room sales for Michigan hotels and motels increased by at least 40,000. The northern Lower Peninsula increased that year from $1.2 million to $1.5 million in room revenue.

Ultimately, the decision on when to start school shouldn’t be one determined by dollars and cents, but rather one centered on what is best for students.

And honestly, I am not sure any student’s education would be impacted much one way or the other by a few weeks on either side of that holiday.

The start of school in Michigan has been debated for decades already, and probably will be for decades more after today.

What’s your opinion?

Drop me a line or send me an e-mail and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.