State officials support starting school after Labor Day

Comptroller Peter Franchot looked on as Gov.-elect Larry Hogan added his signature to a petition to start Maryland schools after Labor Day, during a press conference on Jan. 15, 2015,in Annapolis. Standing at right is state Sen. Jim Mathias, D-Worcester.

Gov. Larry Hogan has issued an executive order mandating that public schools across the state of Maryland begin classes after Labor Day.

Hogan was joined by state Comptroller Peter Franchot and District 6 state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling and Del. Ric Metzgar for the announcement, which was made in Ocean City at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

According to the terms of the executive order, which will go into effect at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, public schools in the state of Maryland will be required to open after Labor Day and conclude for the summer no later than June 15.

The 180 day mandate will remain in place, though jurisdictions will be able, as always, to apply for a waiver if inclement weather days exceed those allotted.

School systems may also apply for a waiver (“based on compelling justification,” the governor noted) of the order’s requirements through the Maryland Board of Education.

For his part, Hogan touted the move as benefitting the economy, environment, health and public safety.

He also spoke of the later school start as a benefit to Maryland families.

“The action we’re taking today will help protect the traditional end of summer,” Hogan explained.

“This isn’t just a family issue,” he noted. “It’s an economic issue.”

Hogan pointed to polls conducted by Goucher College in 2014 and 2015 that indicated 75 percent of Marylanders support the idea, which both he an Franchot called a “common-sense issue.”

In addition, he noted, in 2014 a nonpartisan task force appointed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley voted 12-3 to support a later school start.

For his part, Franchot praised Hogan’s decision, noting, “We’re doing this for Maryland families and our state economy.”

Thanking Hogan for working with him, he added, “This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, but a common-sense issue.”

For years, Franchot has spearheaded the effort to start school after the Labor Day holiday, citing a potential increase in tax revenue and tourism dollars in his reasoning.

A 2013 Board of Revenue Estimates report bolsters this case, claiming that the extra days off would generate $74.3 million in new economic activity in the state and $7.7 million in new tax revenue.

Hogan quickly backed Franchot’s efforts, signing a petition in support of a later school start shortly after becoming governor.

Efforts to pass a law mandating the change have fallen flat in recent years.

Worcester County state Sen. James Mathias Jr. has repeatedly attempted to push such legislation through the General Assembly, only to have it die in committee.

While the push for a post-Labor Day start has picked up steam in recent years, just one of the state’s 24 school districts — Worcester County (home to Ocean City) — will start classes after Labor Day.

The idea has not been popular among school superintendents, who argue that it should be left to local systems to determine the school calendar.

They also argue that, with 180 day school years mandated by law, school could stretch later into June and a later start could disrupt testing schedules.

Proponents of the change, however, have argued that the calendar could be altered to accommodate the later start, perhaps by cutting the number of days students have off for breaks and professional development days.

In a statement issued following Hogan’s order, Maryland State Educators Association spokesman Sean Johnson decried the move as “another Gov. Hogan school cut.”

“Forcing all schools to begin after Labor Day won’t help students do better—and research shows that it can worsen summer brain drain among students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds,” he stated.

“It’s abundantly clear that Gov. Hogan is more interested in grabbing headlines than employing research-backed solutions that could make a difference for students.”

Despite MSEA’s objections, arguments for a later school start have gained more steam in the last week as high heat indices have forced Baltimore County Public Schools to cancel classes two of the first four days of the school year for non air-conditioned schools, a fact Hogan pointed to during Wednesday’s press conference.

“A later start date will prevent Baltimore County ... from losing so many days of school due to heat-related closure,” he noted.

The impact of Hogan’s order remains to be seen.

Speculation has risen that the General Assembly could move to block the order during its 2017 session.

Some have also questioned the legality of the Hogan’s order, arguing that the governor is wading into affairs best left to local jurisdictions.

While state law dictates the length of the school year and state holidays that must be observed, the Maryland State Department of Education, as its website notes, “does not dictate school start dates, teacher professional learning days, or the length of winter and spring breaks.”

“These decisions are made at the local school system level with the input of stakeholders to best meet the needs of the school community,” MSDE notes.

Regarding executive orders, Article II of the Maryland Constitution states that “the Governor may make changes in the organization of the Executive Branch of the State Government, including the establishment or abolition of departments, offices, agencies, and instrumentalities, and the reallocation or reassignment of functions, powers, and duties among the departments, offices, agencies, and instrumentalities of the Executive Branch.”

Any changes made via executive order that are inconsistent with current state law or create new programs in government must be approved by the General Assembly.

It is unclear how or if this may affect Hogan’s mandate.

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