Committee Hears Local Support For Post-Labor Day Start

OCEAN CITY – The resort area’s support for a post-Labor Day school start was expressed this week during an initial committee hearing on bills seeking to end the three-year-old mandate.

In 2016, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan surprised many when he issued an executive order mandating a post-Labor Day start to the school year for public schools in the state. Despite some pushback from certain school districts across the state, Hogan’s mandate remains in place.

However, a pair of bills introduced 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, introduced by King, would allow local jurisdictions to make school start date decisions without approval from the state school board or any other entity.

On Wednesday, the two bills had initial hearings in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Matters Committee, ironically chaired by Pinsky, and passionate testimony was presented by both sides. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and Ocean City Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Melanie Pursel each testified in favor of retaining Hogan’s mandate for a post-Labor Day school start from both an economic and societal standpoint.

“These bills will essentially repeal the governor’s executive order to start school after Labor Day and end by June 15,” Pursel said. “Statewide, we have seen such a positive impact from this mandate and hope to continue this Maryland tradition.”

Ocean City has been at the forefront of the issue, beginning several years ago when Comptroller Peter Franchot announced his “Let Summer Be Summer” initiative and launched a petition drive from the Boardwalk. When Hogan announced the executive order in 2016, he made it from practically the same spot on the Ocean City Boardwalk.

However, it’s important to note the post-Labor Day school start is not a uniquely Ocean City issue and it isn’t just about filling the resort during that last week in August from an economic standpoint, a point Pursel hammered home on Wednesday.

“It is not just about economics,” she said. “It is about family time and truly enjoying a full summer, not just at the beach but at our statewide museums, parks, lakes, mountains, historical spots and countless other attractions and activities.”

Pursel’s testimony pointed out no nexus has been established between the slightly later school start and student success. For example, Worcester County has voluntarily started school after Labor Day for five years and continues to be among the state leaders in student performance and test scores.

“Starting school immediately after Labor Day does not change the current state mandate for 180 instructional days and retains local school boards’ authority to develop and approval all other elements of an annual school calendar,” she said. “Finally, no empirical evidence has been presented that a post-Labor Day school start has had a negative impact on student test scores and performance.”

While Meehan pointed out the economic benefits of a later school start and longer summer, his testimony also focused on the family issues and societal benefits, especially at a time when they appear to be increasingly challenging.

“You know how important that is in today’s world?” he said. “Probably more important than ever and maybe more important than a couple of days in a classroom. There is certainly a social advantage to this and something that is extremely important.”

State Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38), who represents Ocean City and much of the Lower Shore, issued her own statement prior to Wednesday’s committee hearing.

“I simply don’t understand why we are spending time trying to reverse starting school after Labor Day when we have so many pressing education priorities,” she said. “There is no solid evidence that a post-Labor Day school start would have a negative impact on test scores and a later start date can generate significant economic gains.”

Opponents have asserted the governor’s post-Labor Day mandate puts potential economic gains ahead of what’s best for the state’s school children. However, Franchot’s Chief of Staff Len Foxwell testified and pointed out the revenue generated during the last weeks of summer can and does impact public education funding in Maryland.

“This is not a choice between education and business,” he said. “We need the success of the latter to ensure the success of the former.”

For his part, Pinksy said the post-Labor Day school start issue from the beginning has been politically motivated and urged autonomy be returned to the local jurisdictions.

“School policy should not be a political football,” he said. “I believe those closest to the community should make those decisions. Taking it out of the hands of the 24 jurisdictions two-and-a-half years ago was then a political act. Now, we have the opportunity to right that act.”

No vote was taken following the committee hearing on Wednesday.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.