Will Tourism Interests Block Bill on Early School Starts?

January 31, 2017

Empty Classroom

GOP legislators are circulating a bill that would once again allow local school boards to decide the start date of the public school year.

Current law forbids public schools from starting classes before Sept. 1. The post-Sept. 1 start date became law in 2000 after heavy lobbying and generous campaign contributions throughout the 1990s by business, tourism and restaurant interests. Those special interests sought the change in order to keep teenaged employees through the Labor Day weekend and make more money.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Alberta Darling, of River Hills, and Rep. Jim Ott, of Mequon, would allow, but not require, local school boards to start the school year before Sept. 1. The lawmakers cited Advanced Placement classes and testing, summer classes, and football and other fall sports activities as reasons for allowing local school boards the option of starting classes before Sept. 1.

The same legislative proposal went nowhere in the 2013-14 and in the 2007-08 legislative sessions despite bipartisan support. Tourism, business and restaurant interests also opposed those bills.

Between January 2013 and October 2016, business, tourism and restaurant interests contributed more than $1.9 million to current legislators, including more than $1.6 million to GOP lawmakers who control the Assembly 64-35 and the Senate 20-13.

The top recipients of business and tourism industry campaign contributions between January 2013 and October 2016 were legislative leaders, the four caucus legislative campaign committees used by legislative leaders to shake down special interests for cash to spend on elections, and legislators whose seats were targeted in the 2014 or 2016 elections. They include:

Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, about $306,350;

Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, about $228,000;

Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, $80,475;

GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, about $75,200;

State Senate Democratic Committee, $72,675;

GOP Sen. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, about $64,175;

GOP Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, about $50,200.