A long-standing debate over when the school year should begin is back before Missouri lawmakers, who are considering a bill that would restrict public schools from beginning the academic year until late August.

The bill, which would prohibit schools from starting earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September, pass the House by only four votes and now heads to the Senate.

Supporters include tourism officials and groups representing tourism-related businesses such as amusement park operators, hotel and campground owners and river outfitters, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Knight, a Republican from Lebanon, said earlier school years are hurting tourism because families are ending summer vacations in early August. Later start times would give businesses more time to make money, said Knight, who represents a district south of Lake of the Ozarks.

“Tourism is very significant in this state,” Knight told members of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

Darin Keim of Big Surf Waterpark at the Lake of the Ozarks said the summer season for his business has dropped from 105 operating days to 85 because of earlier school times. Lobbyist Jason Zamkus said Silver Dollar City, an amusement park near Branson, has had 100,000 fewer visitors in the past decade. And 47 canoe operations have gone out of business in recent years, said Michelle Lambeth of the Missouri Canoe & Floaters Association.

Opponents of the change include the Missouri National Education Association, the Missouri State Teachers Association and the School Administrators Coalition.

Mike Reid, of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said locally elected public school boards should decide when school years start in their community.

“What happens in Poplar Bluff is going to be different than in Kansas City,” Reid said.

Education representatives said the earlier start times allow districts to give final exam before winter break and allows more time before standardized tests are given in the spring. They also said the earlier start prevents holding classes in June to make up for snow days.

The issue of when school years should start has been debated for decades. In 1983, lawmakers held a similar debate about prohibiting schools from opening until after Labor Day because of tourism concerns. The law was last changed in 2006, when lawmakers gave school districts the power to set their calendars, if they hold a public hearing. That came after the Legislature passed a law in 1992 allowing urban and suburban districts to open before Labor Day. Previously, only rural districts could start before the holiday.

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