Outlaw Run (copy)

A law mandating a later start to the school year is designed to prop up an important industry in the state.

Tourism accounts for up to $17 billion in economic activity. That’s an impressive number, but what about agriculture, with its impact of more than $88 billion? One state study lists the top three industries in Missouri as manufacturing, real estate and health care.

Why not build the school calendar around the soybean harvest, the GM plant or the best months for showing houses?

Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill into law last week that prevents schools in Missouri from starting the academic year more than 14 days before the first Monday in September, effective next year. Up until now, public schools have been allowed an earlier start date as long as boards held an open meeting and a vote.

Under the new law, public schools in St. Joseph would start classes on Aug. 19 instead of Aug. 15, providing one last weekend for family travels.

Or, more importantly to the crafters of this ill-advised law, it allows one last weekend for high school students to staff large amusement parks in places like Branson, Kansas City and St. Louis.

We’re not denying the importance of tourism to Missouri and its economy. Just look at the influx coming to St. Joseph later this month for Chiefs training camp. (It’s an event that tends to wrap up prior to the start time established in the new state law.)

One could argue that the effect on education is negligible. Students still have to attend school for the same number of days, with the new rules likely to push back the beginning of summer vacation or require students to complete semester coursework after Jan. 1. That means students will have to open up their books during the Christmas break. Good luck with that.

Something still nags at us on this one. Perhaps the biggest concern is the message this law sends about local control and where education falls in the pecking order of priorities in our state.

Missouri government officials often cry foul about federal mandates but are never shy about establishing their own rules for local government. The needs of tourism-related employers are different in Branson than in St. Joseph, let alone smaller towns in Missouri. School boards in those communities should be free to make academic calendar decisions that fit the unique needs of their students and employers.

On the question of priorities, few would doubt that education remains absolutely essential to building Missouri’s economy and giving young people the tools needed for rewarding careers that provide a stable income.

But first, we’d like those students to spend one more weekend serving burgers or operating the tilt-a-whirl.

The irony isn’t lost on us.