Schools school state tourism folks on lessons in democracy

Lansing politicians love to wax on about local control and how grand it is to allow the citizens to control their own destiny without any interference from the know-it-alls at the state Capitol.

And the unsuspecting folks back home eat it up.

But both political parties are often guilty of wanting to have it both ways, i.e., endorsing local control except in those cases when they don’t want to.

Exhibit A: When should school reopen for the fall semester?

For decades, despite intense bellyaching from the tourism industry, lawmakers dutifully applied the local control issue and allowed school districts to decide when to unlock the doors to let the kids back in. And, for years, school officials and parents did just that. Some of them opened before Labor Day others did not.

Until the aforementioned tourism lobby finally gathered enough steam in 2005 to convince a majority of lawmakers to turn a momentary blind eye to local control as they mandated all school districts to keep those doors locked until after the last summer holiday.

When you bend the local control issue to meet the needs of this lobby group or that, you, of course, have to provide a reason (read rationalization) for the bending. And lawmakers, with the assistance of motel, restaurant, and novelty shop owners and others, told parents back home that there was money to be made. And, if kids were in school way before Labor Day, there would be less money to be made.

The tourism folks, of course did not respond — or maybe they just forgot about — the school’s counter attack, which was: Research shows the longer the summer is, the more kids forget what they learned in the previous year. And, to boot, that means teachers have to retrace their steps to pour that same knowledge back into the kids’ heads for the first couple weeks of school, thus taking precious time away from pouring new stuff into those same heads.

The education lobby also pointed out that starting school early reduced the chances of having to use snow days when the inevitable winter season resulted in loss of seat time. And, of course, nobody mentioned the notion that lots of moms all over the state were more than willing to cart their little ones off to school early just to get rid of them.

But we digress.

So, for years, schools begrudgingly obeyed the post-Labor Day directive, given the fact that we are a rule-of-law country. That is until it was get-even time.

In 2006, schools began to see waivers from the state education department to open early. Some argued they needed to do that to align their district with other educational entities, such as community colleges, that were offering courses to high school students. And those outlets started before Labor Day.

Some districts trying to get off the state’s list of failing districts pleaded for a head start to reach that goal. And so, one by one, the pre-Labor Day petitions were sought. And virtually every request was granted, as the number mushroomed from 26 in 2012 to this year’s count of 150 out of about 900 school buildings.

For years, lawmakers have offered a plan to eliminate the law, even though the hotel folks report they earned a cool extra $20 million because Johnny and Janey were not in school seats but in the back seat with Mom and Dad hitting all the hit spots around the state.

Each effort to undo the law has failed, making it tourism one, schools nothing.

Well, not quite.

You see, many schools are ignoring the law and freelancing their way back to the future. And they are doing so in broad daylight and not bothering to ask for a note from mommy, a.k.a. the state Education Department, to do it. And the department is not bothering to count how many rouge schools are doing it.

That must drive the tourism folks nuts as they witness a lesson in democracy: You can take our local control away, but, come heck or high water, we’ll find a way to grab it back, ’cause it was ours in the first place.