Legislative Notebook: Lawmakers Again Consider Early School Opening

The annual debate about how early to allow school to begin is headed for the full Minnesota House.

The House Education Reform Committee on Tuesday sent a bill to the House allowing schools to begin before Labor Day, but would not allow classes on the Thursday and Friday before the end-of-summer holiday.

“It is about giving locally elected school boards the ability to adopt a school calendar that best meets the needs of their community,” bill sponsor Rep. Connie Doepke, R-Orono, said.

The Thursday and Friday exceptions to an early start is to allow resorts to have a long weekend.

Resort owners, in particular, have successfully battled a pre-Labor Day start for years, saying many school-age youths work at resorts around the state and a pre-Labor Day school start would eat into the season. But supporters of an earlier start prefer an earlier summer dismissal.

Farmers also have fought the regularly debated proposal.

Joel Carlson, representing small resorts, said the issue has been around through four governors, adding that there is no proof to the argument that early school starts improve student performance.

More arts education

Representatives are considering a bill that would require 40 percent of arts funds coming from a 2008 sales tax increase be given to schools for arts education.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, proposed the bill to use so-called legacy funds that go to arts programs around the state, but are not now required to be spent in schools.

The House legacy funding committee considered the bill Tuesday, but took no action.

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, wondered specifically how the money would be spent. Garofalo said he would suggest allocating it on a per-pupil basis and let districts decide the specifics.

Garofalo said the funds should be in addition to any arts spending already occurring.

Arts and public television advocates opposed the bill.

The bill would provide about $30 per student.

Slowing foreclosures

A group of legislative Democrats wants what is termed a no-cost solution for responsible Minnesotans affected by home foreclosures.

Bills Democratic-Farmer-Laborite lawmakers back include expanding refinancing options for homeowners who are current on mortgages, but face problems such as owning more than the home is worth. Such programs can prevent homeowners from getting current low interest rates.

Another bill would delay foreclosures a year for homeowners who have lived in their homes at least 10 years.

Bills also would require banks to notify homeowners about every option available so they can avoid foreclosure.

“While Minnesota’s economy is improving, the Legislature shouldn’t sit idle while the foreclosure crisis continues to impact middle class families,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

More than 21,000 home foreclosures were reported in the state last year.

Humane groups lobby

Groups calling for the humane treatment of animals gathered at the Capitol Tuesday to support a bill that protects unclaimed pets and oppose one to forbid videotaping of alleged inhumane animal treatment on farms.

The Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection also voiced opposition to a bill opening wolf hunting and trapping seasons.