School Start Bill Clears Senate, Moves To House

OCEAN CITY — The battle in the General Assembly over Gov. Larry Hogan’s mandate for a post-Labor Day start to the school year intensified this week with the full Senate passing a bill to reverse the order.

The legislation passed the Senate by a 31-13 vote, directly down party lines. The bill then moved over to the House with an initial hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.

Last week, when the legislation cleared the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Matters Committee by a narrow 7-4 vote, Hogan vowed to take the issue to the public in the form of a referendum on the 2020 ballot if the bill was approved by the state legislature. After the bill passed the full Senate this week, Hogan publicly called out the Democratic Senate majority for their yea votes, publishing their pictures and contact information on his social media sites.

“The Senate voted to ignore the overwhelming majority of Marylanders who strongly support starting after Labor Day,” he said. “This legislation now moves to the House of Delegates where numerous legislators, in fact Democratic legislators, not only supported the commission to start school after Labor Day, but actually sponsored bills to push the school start date back to the traditional end of summer.”

Hogan and the bill’s supporters in the House appear to face an uphill battle, assuming the votes fall along party lines, which has been the case thus far. Democrats hold a 99-42 advantage in the House of Delegates and Hogan this week called for at least some from the majority party to cross lines and oppose the reversal of his post-Labor Day mandate.

“I am hopeful that these supporters of school after Labor Day in the House will support the same common-sense policy today that they supported in the past,” he said. “I’ve always said I don’t care which side of the aisle an idea comes from as long as it has merit. This idea originated on the Democratic side of the aisle years ago. I know I have an ‘R’ next to my name, but I’d hope we can set partisanship aside and come together to help Maryland families.”

However, Hogan likely sees the writing on the wall with the Democratic majority in the House poised to advance the legislation, which explains the pre-emptive step last week in announcing his plans to take the issue to referendum. Just as he published the pictures and contact information of the Democratic senators who passed the bill this week, he also published the pictures and contact information of 13 Democratic delegates who could provide the swing vote if they oppose the bill.

Maryland Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) called out some of her colleagues for allegedly reversing their own positions on the issue in the name of partisan politics. Carozza pointed to several polls that suggest the public is in favor of retaining the post-Labor Day school start, which is the backbone for Hogan’s referendum promise.

“It makes no sense at all for the legislature to go backwards when an overwhelming majority of Marylanders, including teachers and parents, support starting school after Labor Day,” she said.

From the beginning several years ago, 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.

While some across Maryland view the post-Labor Day school start initiative as largely a parochial issue with its roots in Ocean City, the governor’s mandate applies in all jurisdictions across the state. Ocean City officials, including Mayor Rick Meehan and Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce CEO and Executive Director Melanie Pursel, testified before the Senate committee last week and were back in Annapolis this week as the legislation moved over to the House.

During a Tourism Committee meeting this week, Meehan vowed an even stronger local delegation for Thursday’s House committee hearing.

“We’re going to get beat up when we go back up there,” he said. “We’re going to go anyway and we’re going in force this time.”

Pursel said the challenge is showing the House committee members the post-Labor Day school start is not uniquely an Ocean City issue and promised to enlist the support of parents and teachers on the other side of the bridge.

“The problem is, we don’t need people from here,” she said. “We need people from the other side of the bridge to testify.”

Opponents of the post-Labor Day school start mandate have complained it makes it challenging to meet the 180-day requirement for school days. However, Meehan said this week there are dead spots in the typical school year where real classroom learning fills the void, especially in the waning weeks and days of the school year.

“Once the testing is over the books are put away, what do they do?” he said. “Nobody touches on that. There is a lot of flexibility in meeting that 180-day requirement.”

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.