OCEAN CITY — One day into the 2015 General Assembly session, the drive for a mandated statewide post-Labor Day start to the public school year in Maryland took front and center with supporters, including new Governor-Elect Larry Hogan, touting the benefits of the change.
In August, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot was on the Boardwalk in Ocean City to launch a petition drive seeking 10,000 signatures advocating a mandated post-Labor Day start to the public school year in Maryland.
On Thursday, Franchot gathered in Annapolis with Senator Jim Mathias (D-38), Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, other elected officials, small business owners, educators and tourism officials for a press conference thanking the 13,000-plus Marylanders from all over the state who signed the “Let Summer Be Summer” petition. Conspicuous by his presence was Hogan, who had not publicly weighed in on the issue.
“This isn’t just a family issue, this is an economic issue,” he said. “It brings a tremendous amount of economic activity, brings in tax revenue and there’s no cost to the taxpayers. As a guy who spent a lot of summers with his family in Ocean City on Labor Day weekend, it makes a whole heck of a lot of sense to start school after Labor Day. There’s just no downside to this issue. There are an overwhelming number of people in this state who are in favor of starting school after Labor Day.”
Franchot first pitched the idea of a state-mandated post-Labor Day start to the school year two years ago from Hooper’s in Ocean City, but the measure got little traction initially. During the following session, Mathias was able to successfully pass a bill creating a task force to at least study the issue further. The 15-member panel met throughout much of the next year, tackling the issue from every angle in an effort to find a way to meet the state’s mandated minimum 180-day school year while pushing the start date back past Labor Day, which had been the tradition for decades.
The task force, which includes a cross section of educators, business leaders and other stakeholders, ultimately voted 11-4 to send a favorable recommendation to the General Assembly to mandate the change statewide. As it stands now, each school district in the state has the autonomy to set their school schedules with a majority returning in late August. Last year, Worcester County decided to push its start date back beyond Labor Day.
“This is a grassroots, citizen-driven effort that has gathered tremendous support from all across our great state,” said Franchot on Thursday. “… 13,244 Marylanders have sent a clear message that starting school after Labor Day will give families, students, teachers and small businesses the break they need and deserve. It gives students time to learn life lessons beyond the classroom, teachers the time they need to recharge their batteries and small businesses much needed help during tough economic times. I am confident we can make this meaningful adjustment and continue to end the school year in early to mid-June.”
In August 2013, Franchot released an economic impact report on a post-Labor Day school start in Maryland completed by the Bureau of Revenue Estimates. The report found a delayed school start in Maryland would generate an additional $74.3 million in direct economic activity, including $3.7 million in new wages and a separate $7.7 million in state and local revenue. Clearly, as the state’s major summer tourism destinations, Ocean City would stand to gain from the measure if passed, a notion not lost on Meehan, who was present at the press conference on Thursday.
“Starting school after Labor Day is good for Ocean City and the entire state,” he said. “It gives families more time to enjoy the last few weeks of summer and provides small businesses — the heart of our tourism-based economy — a tremendous economic boost when they need it most. It also creates jobs and generates revenue for our state’s struggling economy.”
Mathias, who authored the task force bill and will likely introduce a new bill this session, pointed out the benefits for the entire state.
“From Ocean City to Assateague, the State Fair to the Inner Harbor to Deep Creek Lake, summers are about families exploring all that Maryland has to offer,” he said on Thursday. “This time together is priceless for families, and in such challenging financial times, it also allows businesses to generate tens of millions in economic activity and supports jobs while increasing tax revenues.”
Franchot expressed confidence that the state’s school systems could adjust their academic calendars without pushing back the end date or losing time for classroom instruction. The flexibility of adjusting winter and spring breaks or eliminating some of the school closure dates scattered throughout the school calendar would be left to each of Maryland’s 24 school systems.
It remains uncertain if state lawmakers from every corner of Maryland will support the legislation. For example, during an address to educators in Annapolis late last year, prominent Senator Paul Pinsky (D-PG County) called the idea “ridiculous.”
“To adopt a policy so people can still either attend a summer vacation or be able to work there and try to foist that on the state of Maryland is shameful,” Pinsky said in December. “I think we ought to reject that as strongly as we can and tell people, you know, let’s put kids first, not your small, narrow economic well-being for one community. To pass a state policy to help a community, a business community, increase their profits is absurd. In fact, I think we should be looking at year-round school. We should be looking at creative ways to engage students.”
While the state’s superintendent of schools came down against the idea during the task force deliberations, as did the superintendents of some individual school districts, the concept appears to have some traction with teachers.
“Teaching is a labor of love, but it’s a tough job,” said Easton Elementary teacher Leslie Beveridge at Thursday’s press conference. “With some common sense adjustments to the school calendar, we can give teachers the summer breaks we need to recharge our batteries and spend quality time with our own families, without impacting the end of the school year.”
The Bureau of Revenue Estimates report found that 8.5 percent of the 514,680 affected families, those with school-age children, would take either a new day trip or a new overnight trip to one of Maryland’s top three destinations- Baltimore, Deep Creek Lake or Ocean City. Another 5.2 percent would take a new out-of-state day or overnight trip and the remaining families would devote at least one more day to a family recreational activity closer to home.
“Starting school after Labor Day would give small businesses a big boost at a time when we could desperately use the help,” said Bill Paulshock, owner of Bill’s Seafood and Catering in Baltimore. “This is an economic stimulus that doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. For small businesses like mine, adding a week or two to summer break can mean the difference between keeping the lights on or not.”