Sen. Marty Knollenberg
Sen. Marty Knollenberg

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Committee on Education on Tuesday approved legislation that would allow school districts to begin classes before Labor Day.

State Sen. Marty Knollenberg, the bill’s sponsor, argued that school start dates are best left at the local level.

“I believe parents, teachers and school administrators know what’s best for their children and the state doesn’t have any business mandating such decisions,” he said. “The bill does not change the state’s yearly requirement of 180 school days; it would just allow school districts the freedom to create a schedule that best meets their needs.”

Under current state law, school districts are prohibited from beginning classes before Labor Day weekend — a prohibition that only two other states have on the books.

Senate Bill 271 would modify the law to allow schools to open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in August, allowing schools to start before Labor Day weekend, but also maintaining the section that prohibits classes from being held on Monday or Friday in August.

“This was a compromise that emerged throughout the drafting process,” Knollenberg said. “Allowing school on Tuesday through Thursday gives districts the flexibility to start before Labor Day, but by keeping the ban on Mondays and Fridays, we were able to preserve the economic benefit of four-day weekends leading up to the holiday.”

State law, as it is currently written, also allows districts to request a waiver that would exempt them from the prohibition and allow them to start before Labor Day. Knollenberg contends that this waiver process shows us why we need SB 271.

“An increasing number of school districts are requesting waivers and nearly 60 percent are being approved,” he said. “If we’re going to allow an exemption and approve over half of the requests, why not just remove the law? It’s a decision the state should have no part of anyway.”

The bills have been referred back to the full Senate for consideration.