Education committee, school groups split on starting school prior to Sept. 1

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- To help students who may be falling behind after a year of virtual learning, some lawmakers are supportive of starting classes earlier. 

The idea was floated by Governor Tony Evers earlier this week to change state law to allow classes to start before Sept. 1, citing a loss of learning during the pandemic. 

"We might have to change that temporarily," Evers said during a WisPolitics event.  

A year ago this month, Gov. Tony Evers closed K-12 schools as the pandemic unfolded. It marked the beginning of new challenges for schools as they were forced to teach students virtually, but in doing so, studies show an alarming number of kids are falling behind. 

Members on the Assembly education committee are split on whether to allow districts to start earlier. 

Rep. Bob Wittke (R-Racine) said he’s open to the idea and stressed it’s necessary now more than ever.

“Overall in our state, 40 percent of our kids are proficient in reading and math, we have the worst achievement gaps in the nation, in my mind, these proposals should have been considered years ago,” said Wittke.

Right now, districts can apply for a waiver with the state to open ahead of schedule.

One Democrat on the education committee is hesitant to the idea of allowing school districts to start early because it would take away local control. 

“I don’t think it’s our place as the state Legislature to try and dictate what any school district does outside of our purview,” Myers said. “What might be good for Milwaukee or Racine may not be the same in Ashland, and that’s why they have elected boards of education to make those decisions.”

The concept to change the state’s start date is nothing new. Lawmakers in the past have attempted to move back the Sept. 1 date in previous sessions. 

Kim Kaukl, the executive director of the Rural School Alliance, is familiar with the opposition years prior, as the tourism industry says they rely on students working summer jobs as it’s peak travel season for the state. 

“We are in unique times right now,” said Kaukl. “That Sept. 1 deadline was put in there for tourism, but people are not traveling as much right now so I think this coming year having that flexibility would be great.”

Kaukl added he also supports districts making their own decisions when to open, but believes an earlier start could help students who are struggling to catch up.

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