JEFFERSON CITY • In a move pitting the tourism industry against school groups, a Missouri lawmaker wants to bar schools from starting classes before late August.
The proposal by Rep. Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon, would set the starting date no earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September.
Knight, whose district is south of the Lake of the Ozarks, said earlier school start dates are affecting the tourism industry as more families end their summer vacations in early August.
“Tourism is very significant in this state,” Knight told members of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.
The measure faces a potential hurdle in the Senate after it squeaked out of the House with just four votes to spare.
But, Knight said, the change could give tourism-related businesses one more summer weekend to make money.
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In the coming school year, most St. Louis area school districts are set to start in mid-August. St. Louis Public Schools will open Aug. 13.
Among those favoring the prohibition were amusement park operators and lobby groups representing hotel owners, campground owners and river outfitters.
Darin Keim of Big Surf Waterpark at the Lake of the Ozarks said the changes in school start times have resulted in the summer season dropping to 85 operating days from 105 operating days.
Silver Dollar City, an amusement park near Branson, has seen 100,000 fewer visitors in the past decade, said lobbyist Jason Zamkus. And Michelle Lambeth of the Missouri Canoe & Floaters Association said the industry has lost 47 canoe businesses in recent years.
“This is a statewide problem,” Lambeth said.
But Mike Reid of the Missouri School Boards’ Association said the decision should be made by locally elected public school board members.
“What happens in Poplar Bluff is going to be different than in Kansas City,” Reid said.
Others opposed to the change include the Missouri National Education Association, the Missouri State Teachers Association and the School Administrators Coalition.
Some St. Louis area schools start in early August. School leaders like it for several reasons.
An early start can mean finishing a semester and squeezing in final exams before winter break. It allows more learning to take place before standardized tests are given in the spring. And it prevents holding classes in June to make up for snow days after a harsh winter.
The school calendar has been a hot-button issue for educators, students, parents and business owners for decades.
The law was last altered in 2006, when lawmakers approved a plan that would give school districts the power to set their calendars, as long as they hold a public hearing.
That followed a 1992 law allowing urban and suburban districts to open before Labor Day. Previously, only rural districts were allowed to start before the holiday.
In 1983, lawmakers also debated legislation prohibiting public schools from opening until after Labor Day because of concerns about hurting tourism in the state.
An early August start to the school year may not be the only factor contributing to a slowdown in spending on tourism.
In 2017, the state cut funding for weekend staff at its welcome centers, after former Gov. Eric Greitens slashed funding for the Missouri Division of Tourism by 47 percent.
The Missouri Division of Tourism laid off 50 part-time contractors who worked at the welcome centers, which provide maps, directions and other information for travelers as they enter the state.
At the same time, a global travel guide put the Show-Me state on its no-travel list because of “startling headlines” about a new law making it more difficult to sue employers for discrimination.
In placing Missouri on its no-travel list, Fodor’s cited reports that African-Americans were more likely than whites to be stopped by law enforcement officers in the state, as well as other incidents and policies that raise questions about various types of discrimination.
Fodor’s placement of Missouri next to global danger spots such as Myanmar, Honduras and Cuba came after the Missouri chapter of the NAACP approved a resolution for a travel advisory in 2017, recommending tourists avoid Missouri.
The legislation is House Bill 161.