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Wisconsin Students Could Return to School in August Under New DPI Proposal

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is proposing a policy shift that would allow schools to start before the traditional September 1st date. Current state regulations prevent public schools from starting classes before September 1st. The suggested rule change would modify existing legislation, enacted in 2002.

In recent years, more school districts have sought to start the academic year earlier. In 2023-24, over 100 districts asked to start the school year early. Just two years earlier, only 18 districts submitted such waiver requests.

Some exemptions already exist. School districts can start school early for things like construction projects, unexpected school closures, or transportation issues. The new exemptions proposed by DPI seek to help schools trying to improve attendance and student achievement. Schools offering special support in math and reading might also qualify for an exemption. DPI would also expand the exemption to districts looking to address mental health issues.

Many small businesses and tourism leaders are opposed to this change, and in a public hearing, they spoke out against it. They claimed that school start dates in August would harm the state's economy, considering August is one of the busiest months for tourism in Wisconsin.

Joe Klimczak, general manager for Cave of the Mounds, said that they rely on teachers and students who work there during summer break. “Tourism businesses in general face many challenges because we are largely seasonal operations,” he said. “Providing more start date exemptions ... would deprive us of much of our workforce when we need them most.

The proposed shift has sparked debates about education and the economy. While DPI argues that schools need more time to address specific needs, concerns about tourism and summer jobs are common. State Representative Joel Kitchens said recently that the new rules might limit the time families traditionally use for summer vacations. Ultimately, these decisions might come down to choosing between economic and educational priorities.

The DPI announced they will continue to gather public feedback, with no set deadline mentioned. All input will be reviewed, informing the final rule, which would also require approval from Governor Tony Evers to become law.

[Source: The Capital Times; Department of Public Instruction]

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