A Virginia Senate committee gave a victory to the state’s tourism industry and a defeat to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell on Thursday by killing three bills that would have repealed a state law setting the first day of school after Labor Day.
The legislation would have nixed the so-called Kings Dominion law — a nod to the theme park — that passed nearly 30 years ago at the behest of a tourism industry eager for more late-summer visitors.
The action by the Senate Education and Health Committee followed testimony from a string of tourism representatives, who said that moving the first day of school before the holiday weekend would hurt the industry at a time when it could ill afford to lose revenue.
The committee also heard from education advocates and Dana Raphael, a junior at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, who argued that the late start to the school year put Virginia students at a disadvantage when taking Advanced Placement and other national tests.
“We’re very, very disappointed,” said Laura Fornash, Virginia’s secretary of education, who had urged the committee to adopt the legislation.
The committee rolled three nearly identical bills into one and then voted 9 to 6 to pass it by indefinitely.
About a dozen bills to repeal the Kings Dominion law are still alive in the House, but even if one passes there and in the full House, it would take a change of heart on the Senate committee before it could get to the full Senate for a vote.
Even so, Fornash said she was “most definitely hopeful” that the matter could be resurrected in the Senate this General Assembly session.
“I wouldn’t imagine that the Senate bill would come back, but anything can happen around here,” said Katie Hellebush, director of government relations for the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association.
McDonnell has made repeal of the Kings Dominion law a priority of his education agenda.
School districts already have the right to seek an exception to that rule. So many do that McDonnell has said it no longer makes sense for the exception to be the rule.
Advocates for the legislation noted that school districts would not be required to start school before Labor Day. It would simply make it possible for local school districts to do so without having to seek the waiver from the state.