Last Chance to Save Summer

Sen. John Putney, R-Gladbrook, is making his last bid to save summer, or at least the last fleeting days of summer vacation.

Putney, who is retiring, makes an annual attempt to stop Iowa schools from starting a new school year before Aug. 25. This week he succeeded in adding the requirement to a broader education bill on a 34-14 vote. It would not apply to year-round schools.

Iowa law already requires schools to wait until after Sept. 1 to start classes, but that law also allows the Department of Education to grant waivers to districts wishing to start earlier. The department granted waivers to 353 out of 364 districts last year, so essentially, the Sept. 1 law is moot.

Department officials say local officials should set their own calendars, not the state. But Putney argues that earlier and earlier start dates are eating into family vacations and taking money from Iowa’s tourism industry. It’s worth noting that Putney runs the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, which raises money for the mid-August fair.

Kids shouldn’t start making plans for extra summer days just yet. Putney has previously succeeded in convincing the Senate to adopt his idea, only to watch the House strip his summer extenstion from the bill. That may happen again this time, and Putney won’t be back next year to try again.

The 12-year-old in me that remembers the joys of summer vacation, especially those untethered late summer days post-detasseling and after baseball season, likes Putney’s idea. But with the state taking more and more control of the way schools operate, you can’t blame the department for throwing locals a bone.

Also, longer school years are in the future, there’s no getting around it. Students are going to face more and more pressure to compete with countries where kids attend classes for more hours during the day and more days each year. Like it or not, the trends are making childhood a full-time job.

Summer vacation as we know it will be a casualty of that trend. I, for one, will be sad to see it go.

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