DES MOINES | Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he would accept a compromise on the school-start-date controversy, whereby K-12 school districts could not start fall classes before Aug. 23, if the Senate releases the bill so it can make its way to his desk.
The six-term Republican governor usually reserves judgment on legislation until it reaches his desk and his staff has time to review the language in its final form. But Branstad told reporters Monday he is ready to approve a bill that has passed both legislative chambers but is being held up in the Iowa Senate on a procedural motion.
“I’m acceptable with the compromise bill that’s now passed both houses,” Branstad said of Senate File 227 -- a measure that started in the Senate as a bill to give school districts local control over setting school start dates but was reworked in the House to bar schools from beginning fall classes before Aug. 23. That version returned to the Senate last week and was approved by a 28-22 vote, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, filed a motion to reconsider the passage out of concern that the bill as it currently stands would not allow Iowa high schools to adopt year-round calendars.
The governor said Monday that issue should not hold up final passage given that Iowa currently doesn’t have any year-round high schools, “so it’s not something that we need to address.”
In taking his action to put a hold on S.F. 227, Gronstal told reporters, “We think that’s pretty crazy to not allow any high school to pursue year-round schools. He said he was “in no rush” to lift his procedural hold in hopes that “people will come to their senses” and find a more-workable approach to resolve differences over the school start date issue.
Gronstal said as of Monday nothing had changed on that issue and the bill remained on the Senate debate calendar with a motion to reconsider attached.
However, Senate GOP Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock called Gronstal’s move another example of Democratic “stalling tactics” that are making it difficult for Iowa’s school districts to plan for the next school year without knowing how the calendar dispute or an impasse over state aid to schools will be resolved by lawmakers this session.
The legislation at issue came about in response to new school starting date guidelines developed by the Iowa Department of Education after Branstad told the agency to halt the practice of granting virtually all waiver requests from schools seeking to bypass current law that says classes should not begin before the week that includes Sept. 1.
The state agency guidelines parallel concerns raised by Branstad, who has sympathized with Iowa tourism officials concerned that they are losing millions of dollars annually and their younger workers because of students returning to K-12 classes as early as mid-August.
The guidelines could reduce the number of school districts that start early by requiring school officials to prove that students would be harmed academically if they don't start classes early. In the current school year, all but two of Iowa’s 338 public K-12 school districts sought and were granted waivers from the current law. In the 2013-14 school year, only 10 Iowa school districts started later than Aug. 23.
“I can live with the present law, or this compromise is something that I would find also acceptable,” Branstad told reporters at his weekly news conference on Monday.