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Let districts set dates for school year

Money is more important than public education. Still.

That's the sad message the Minnesota House Finance Committee delivered Monday in defeating a measure that would have allowed school districts to start the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years before Labor Day.

Setting a school calendar should be a local decision -- one rooted in what best serves the unique educational needs of each district.

Yet since 2005, the Legislature -- driven by a few powerful voices from "up north" and the Minnesota State Fair -- has mandated public schools start after Labor Day. Monday's vote means the soonest school can start this fall is Sept. 8. Next fall it will be Sept. 7.

The only reason? Money.

By forcing public schools to start after Labor Day, legislators representing tourism-dependent regions say their constituents will make more of it. In the case of the State Fair, it supposedly protects its work force and attendance, which also boil down to money.

Well, gosh, if the public school calendar is subservient to tourism and travel habits, then here are a few more (sarcastic) ideas:

Ban high school sports practices from starting in mid-August. To heck with one weekend; this clears two entire weeks for thousands of families to spend their money "up north."

Mandate all extracurricular school events be held on weeknights so as not to cut into weekend travel plans.

Ban schools from holding classes on the weekdays that bookend events such as the fishing opener, the deer-hunting opener and even the entire week leading up to Memorial Day weekend.

Never mind that such moves mean students would have to attend school well into June -- a time when many educators believe students are hardest to reach.

Never mind that not all students and their families partake of such "up north" activities.

And certainly never mind that the state Constitution has specific language about the state's obligation to public education but doesn't seem to mention the word "tourism" anywhere.

OK, OK, we hope you get the point.

As much as legislators must champion causes specific to their districts, their peers also must have the courage to stand up and vote for what makes the most sense for the state, not the most money for one area or industry.

On the issue of school calendars, the answer is obvious. Let each district set its own. -- St. Cloud Times