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Minnesota Opinion: On flexible start times and school year need

An excerpt from recent editorials in Minnesota newspapers:

From The Associated Press

On flexible start times and school year need:

Tens of thousands of Minnesota students recently started school -- despite a state law that prohibits public schools from beginning class before Labor Day.

About 16,000 students from 25 southwestern Minnesota districts began class early to improve student learning. But to sidestep the Labor Day rule, the districts had to get special permission from the state.

Their situation underscores changes that should be made to Minnesota school calendars. Districts should be allowed to make their own choices about school start times. And longer school years should be adopted.

The southern Minnesota districts, including Worthington, Marshall and Mountain Lake, sought the waiver as part of a three-year experiment to see if an earlier start can improve academic achievement. Exemptions were granted by the education commissioner under the state's "flexible learning year" law, which allows districts to make their case to the state for waivers. Some districts, including Minneapolis, seek permission because of school construction or renovation schedules. And a handful of districts are on four-day school weeks under that law to save on transportation and other costs.

Minnesota's mandated post-Labor Day start has more do with the needs of the vacation industry than with those of students. The resort industry and State Fair advocates successfully argued that early starts take away high school workers and vacationing families who sustain the late summer tourism economy.

While those are legitimate concerns, well-educated students are also an important investment in the state's economy.

Southwestern Minnesota school leaders are wisely trying the earlier start because it adds 10 days to the school year before state standardized tests in the spring. A second group of 20 school districts in southern Minnesota is considering the early start approach for 2011.

-- Star Tribune of Minneapolis