- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Maryland officials, contemplating millions of dollars lost each year in vacation tourism revenue, are joining other states in reconsidering school start dates that have crept earlier into the summer in recent years.

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot has called for a post-Labor Day start to classes, saying his studies show an extra week of summer vacation could generate $74.3 million from tourism and put an additional $7.7 million in state coffers.

“The tourist industries in the state are quite diverse, and there would be increased economic activity that would be pulled back into the school system,” said Mr. Franchot, a Democrat. “The study we did showed a direct increase in economic activity when vacations were being taken after August, and our report did not even include the indirect economic benefits.”

The conclusion comes after a decades-long creep away from the traditional agrarian calendar in which academicians considered the benefits of year-round schooling. Now debates similar to that in Maryland are playing out around the country, with legislatures caught between the economic interests of their states and the educational needs of their students.

In Maryland, a task force was assembled last year to study the implications of a post-Labor Day starting date for public schools. The task force voted 11-4 in favor of a later starting date and recommended to Gov. Martin O’Malley that the state implement a law that will mandate the later start.

Mr. Franchot’s report looked at three of Maryland’s major tourist destinations — Ocean City, Baltimore and Deep Creek Lake — and concluded that each would increase substantially in economic profit. The comptroller also says that an extended break will give students more time to spend with their families and prevent businesses from losing their temporary workers — often high school students — before the summer ends.

“I believe that it would improve the quality of life of parents and families with young children, and I think it’s a mistake, a well-intentioned one, to start school earlier because kids benefit from having a full summer,” Mr. Franchot said.

Passing such a law would make Maryland one of just a few states to require a later start. Many states give their districts flexible options in when to start and finish, contingent upon meeting a 180-day requirement.

The Worcester County Board of Education recently decided to push back its start date to Sept. 2 for the 2014-2015 year despite its superintendent’s objections. Mr. Franchot sees Worcester’s decision as emblematic of where the state is headed.

The tourism industry has been one of the driving forces behind September starting dates in places like Michigan and Virginia, where the law requires schools to start after Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the state. The laws are lobbied for and championed by tourism officials and business owners who benefit from August earnings.

In Virginia, legislation is introduced virtually every year to reconsider what is called the “King’s Dominion law,” named for the state’s popular theme park. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, supports the later start to school, citing the impact tourism has on the economy.

More schools in Michigan, however, have been requesting waivers to start in mid-August, with some teachers advocating the year-round schedule.

Other states, like Pennsylvania, have most of their schools starting before Labor Day with very few exceptions. In nearly every post-Labor Day dispute, the discussion remains fixed on the economic gains instead of student learning.

Before the Maryland task force came to a vote, local superintendents sent letters to the state Department of Education expressing strong opposition against any legislation that would threaten their district’s autonomy. The letters stated the importance of each district exercising its own judgment according to its diverse needs and the interest of its students.

Mary Jo Richmond, a Frederick County educator and a member of the Maryland State Education Association who sat on the task force, said starting after Labor Day will harm professional development for teachers and students. Ms. Richmond, one of the four members who voted against the recommendation, sees the value in more money for the state but isn’t convinced that it will be good for schools.

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