Labor Day and the Fight over the School Calendar

For many families, Labor Day is a welcome extension to the final weekend of summer. Some even take their summer vacation the week before Labor Day. But in school districts and states across the country, the day has become a battleground between legislators, educators and the tourism industry. The battle over when school starts: before Labor Day or after Labor Day!

The question of when to send kids back to school has long been a complicated one. There is no predictable schedule for the country as a whole and hasn’t been for some time. School open and closing dates have varied depending on whether the school was located in a hot or cool climate, or an urban versus rural state. In rural areas, for example, school traditionally opened after Labor Day and closed in mid-spring. That allowed farms to operate on schedule without the need to pull kids out of school. Recently, the calendar has shifted earlier for more and more states, with schools often opening weeks before Labor Day.

Not everyone thinks that starting school earlier is a good thing. At least two states are exploring the possibility of pushing the start of school forward to open after Labor Day. Those states, Maryland and Ohio, want summer to last a little longer. The rationale is, as it was traditionally, economics. This time, however, it’s not farm labor but seasonal labor that has folks mulling the change, combined with additional tax dollars derived from tourism.

Starting after Labor Day will bring more revenue to the state’s economy. That’s because later start dates tend to equal more family vacations at Labor Day. More family vacations mean more dollars paid out. More dollars paid out equals more tax revenue.

In Virginia, schools are banned from starting early. Under the so-called “King’s Dominion law” – named after the amusement park – public schools may not open before Labor Day without a seeking a waiver from the state. The law has been around since 1986 and was pushed through by the tourism industry.

Virginia is just one of a handful of states that have specific laws preventing schools from opening before Labor Day. One of the other states, Michigan, also touts tourism as the reason for a later start date. In 2012, the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association (MLTA) reported that tourism dollars have increased each year since the new school start date policy took effect in 2006..

Other states have considered a change in school calendars, including my own state of Pennsylvania: a push in 2006 to make school start dates later for the entire state failed. In a state heavily dependent on tourism (it’s our #2 revenue raiser behind agriculture bringing in about $67 billion in 2012), a later start date should equal more dollars. A study that came out of that effort to change the school calendar indicated that Pennsylvania would have benefited by $378 million in direct net revenue from the move. Currently, however, just over 10% of public schools in the state start after Labor Day (including the Philadelphia School District).

And the Labor Day school mandate could continue to spread. Bills and debates about tourism vs. education have recently cropped up in Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, and Texas. This year, lawmakers in Ohio introduced a bill that would require state schools to start after Labor Day; its sponsors argued that it would lesson costs from air conditioning and allow kids to spend more time at summer jobs, thus boosting the economy.

In June, the Delaware Senate narrowly passed a bill (which died in the House) that would also require schools to start after Labor Day. The task force that recommended the bill said it would allow kids to stay at summer jobs longer and extend the tourist season. In April, a Rhode Island senator also introduced a Labor Day bill, pointing to Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia and saying that the late start date in each state was “applauded” by the tourism industry.

Education’s Argument for Starting School Early

On the other side of the argument, educators give this argument for starting school before Labor Day:

  • An earlier start date gives teachers more instructional time before statewide assessment tests in the spring. Several experts agreed that this is one of the biggest factors pushing calendars back.
  • Beginning in August allows students to complete the first semester before the December holiday break, rather than taking tests and turning in big projects after two weeks off. Teachers don’t have to spend time reviewing material in January when they should be starting new lessons.
  • Starting early allows for a fall break in September or October and a winter break around February, in addition to breaks around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Teachers are happier and kids behave better when they have more breaks throughout the year, said Rebecca Kaye, the Atlanta Public Schools policy and governance adviser, who makes the yearly calendar. “Learning is hard work, and teaching is hard work, and people need breaks,” Kaye said. “We have gotten feedback from our employees that they need that time.”
  • Distributing the mandated number of school days more evenly throughout a school year helps students retain what they learn and helps improve staff morale.


I was born and raised in Pennsylvania and we never started school before Labor Day. In recent years many school districts in Pennsylvania have been starting before Labor Day and getting out in May, instead of the regular end time of June.


I would love to hear some response from educators, parents etc. on how they feel about starting school before Labor Day!

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