OCEAN CITY — A pair of bills introduced in the state senate could, if approved, derail Governor Larry Hogan’s mandate for a post-Labor Day start to the school year in Maryland.
After several failed attempts at legislation, Hogan in 2016 surprised many when he issued an Executive Order mandating a post-Labor Day start to the school year for Maryland public schools. Despite some pushback from certain school districts across the state, Hogan’s mandate went into effect before the 2017-2018 school year and remains in effect during the current school year.
However, a pair of bills introduced late last week in the state Senate could overturn the governor’s edict if successful. Senate Bill 128, introduced by Senator Nancy King (D-39-Montgomery) and Senator Paul Pinsky (D-22-Prince George’s), would allow each school district in Maryland to set their own start and end dates including possibly year-round school. Senate Bill 131 would allow local jurisdictions to make school start date decisions without approval from the state school board or any other entity.
Hogan issued the order citing the importance of a post-Labor Day school start for students and their families hoping to eke out the remaining days of late August and perhaps more importantly the economies in areas that would benefit from longer summer vacation times. While the governor’s post-Labor Day mandate applies statewide, for many it has had the appearance of being a uniquely Ocean City issue because the resort perhaps stands the most to gain from the edict.
From the beginning several years ago, Ocean City has been at the forefront of the issue, beginning when Comptroller Peter Franchot announced his “Let Summer Be Summer” initiative and launched a petition drive from the Boardwalk. When Hogan announced the order in 2016, he made it from practically the same spot on the Ocean City Boardwalk.
Almost immediately after Hogan’s announcement, educators across Maryland decried the mandate and called into question the validity of the order. Critics have claimed a later school start, although the required 180 days will be preserved, would cut down on valuable teaching time. Perhaps more importantly, some school jurisdictions have claimed the governor’s mandate undermines the autonomy of the various school districts and ties the hands of superintendents to make decisions on what they believe is best for their schools.
With the introduction of a pair of bills last week, the battle has begun anew. Franchot called the two Senate bills short-sighted.
“While I personally respect Senators Pinsky and King, I believe that Senate Bill 128 is a bad bill that must be defeated,” he said. “The post-Labor Day school start has proven to be highly popular with families across our state and has been a godsend for local, independent businesses that are already struggling to succeed. It’s been good for the Maryland economy and has resulted in none of the negative outcomes that had been predicted by the naysayers.”
Franchot also said the pair of post-Labor Day school start bills could deflect state lawmakers’ attention away from more pressing education needs in the state.
“Here’s hoping my former colleagues in the General Assembly can remain focused on the important education issues at hand such as providing all of our children with safe, healthy classroom conditions they deserve,” he said. “This bill is an unwelcome distraction that disregards the will of the overwhelming majority of Marylanders.”
Closer to home, resort officials have been closely monitoring the legislation and are circling the troops to combat the pair of bills introduced last week. In a letter to members on Tuesday, Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel urged resort business leaders to contact the bills’ sponsors and their own delegation voicing their displeasure. Pursel pointed out Worcester County voluntarily started school after Labor Day long before the governor’s edict and the proof is in the pudding with continued good tests scores and high school ratings.
“Worcester County has already instituted the post-Labor Day start over the past four years with much success, boasting some of the highest test scores in the state,” the letter reads. “This is critical for tourism as well as our local workforce as students heading back to school and the loss of J-1 students leaves businesses with a limited workforce.”
Pursel’s letter to chamber members points out the economic benefits beyond the extended summer for students and their families.
“Since the governor’s executive order, the state has received an influx of tourism dollars for up to two additional weeks, which can assist with a variety of state initiatives,” the letter reads. “Further and most importantly, this allows Maryland families additional time together. This is a statewide benefit to simply have all counties start after Labor Day while allowing the flexibility of the calendar within that timeframe up to the local jurisdiction.”