Today I Learned...That It's Illegal to Start School Before Labor Day in Virginia

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Frankly, I’m of the opinion that this should be illegal everywhere. We all know that Labor Day marks the official end to the summer season. Pools close up. Beaches go quiet. At Target, enormous palettes filled with notebooks, backpacks, and highlighters supplant the outdoor furniture section. But not before we get one more weekend of barbecues, late nights, and amusements.

Sadly, this sacred demarcation has been dashed to pieces by standardized testing. That’s right. Among other reasons, says CNN, schools start the year earlier and earlier to create more instructional time for statewide testing prep. It’s hard to think of a more depressing reason to get on the school bus while the calendar still says August.

However, thanks to the powerful influence of the amusement park lobby in the state of Virginia, the vast majority of its students still enjoy a full summer, properly bookended by the barbecue holidays—Memorial and Labor Day.

This is thanks to what is known as the King’s Dominion Law. In 1986, at the behest of leading state tourism attractions such as King’s Dominion and Busch Gardens, Virginia passed a law prohibiting schools from opening before Labor Day without a special waiver. In essence, the amusement park industry made the argument that its economic interests benefitted the state more than the imperative to begin school in the waning days of summer.

According to the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, Labor Day generates roughly $369 million in economic activity for the state. Advocates for the King’s Dominion Law say starting the school year earlier threatens economic performance during this all-important, final holiday weekend.

To date, lawmakers have agreed, though we think it might also have something to do with King’s Dominion giving roughly $30,000 in free tickets to lawmakers since 2001. Don’t underestimate the lengths to which your district’s congressional representative might go for a free log flume ride.

At any rate, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Ben Kiser, notes, “The lobbying efforts on the part of the tourism industry are quite strong, and we’ve never had adequate votes in order to change the law.”

On behalf of Virginia’s students, and to the end of preserving a true summer for students everywhere, long live the King’s Dominion.

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