- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday directed all public schools to open after Labor Day, even as most Virginia school districts have secured waivers to skirt a state law requiring a post-holiday opening for schools.

Citing an expected boost to economic activity across Maryland, Mr. Hogan signed an executive order to begin the academic year after Labor Day but still end the year by June 15. The order will go into effect for the 2017-18 school year.

“Starting Maryland public schools after Labor Day is not just a family issue — it’s an economic and public safety issue that draws clear, strong, bipartisan support among an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” the Republican governor said during a signing ceremony on the boardwalk in Ocean City.

Mr. Hogan was joined by state Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat and longtime supporter of the school policy, who also touted the bipartisan nature of the change.

“Let’s just agree together to do the right thing for the state of Maryland,” Mr. Franchot said. “It’s not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue, but a common-sense issue.”

But Michael D. Busch, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, took issue with Mr. Hogan’s initiative, saying that education experts should be involved in discussions to make a major change to the academic year. He said he expects discussions in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to overturn the policy if Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat, doesn’t make a finding against setting it by executive order.

“The idea of doing this through executive order is a complete circumvention of the legislative process,” said Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat. “That’s why 188 legislators come to Annapolis every year.”

Mr. Hogan’s order creates a tight window of 200 to 205 days for schools to schedule the state-mandated 180-day academic year, given time off typically allotted for winter and spring break, holidays and snow days.

Most Maryland schools used to start after Labor Day, but the first day of school was pushed earlier into August in the late 1990s when the 180-day school year was mandated.

Mr. Franchot for years has advocated for a later start, and said Wednesday it would benefit students by letting them enjoy a longer summer and businesses by extending the revenue season they depend on.

“It will give families throughout our state time to enjoy those final days of summer the way they were meant to be enjoyed, whether it is taking that final vacation to the beach or the lake, visiting the Inner Harbor or catching an Orioles game, enjoying an evening at the Maryland State Fair or just relaxing a bit at home,” the comptroller said.

A 2013 economic impact study showed that starting school after Labor Day would add $74.3 million to the state’s economy. That includes $3.7 million in new wages and $7.7 million in state and local tax revenue.

In addition, several polls have reported that most Marylanders support the later start to the school year. Two independent studies done by Goucher College in 2014 and 2015 showed that about 70 percent of residents favored the policy. And a petition last year in favor of the after-Labor Day start garnered about 25,000 signatures.

“Starting school after Labor Day gives families more time to enjoy the last few weeks of summer and provides small businesses a significant economic boost when they need it most,” Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said Wednesday. “It also creates jobs and generates revenue for our state’s economy. After a lot of hard work and tremendous effort, I am thrilled to see an executive order to start school after Labor Day, not because it is good for Ocean City, but because it’s good for the entire state.”

Yet efforts to legislate a later start to the academic year have stalled in recent years, opposed by school leaders and officials.

Some local school officials said Mr. Hogan and Mr. Franchot have overstepped their bounds.

“While the Montgomery County Board of Education certainly appreciates the governor’s and comptroller’s interest in supporting beach communities on the Eastern Shore, we strongly oppose any attempt to usurp local decision-making around school calendars,” said Michael A. Durso, president of the county’s school board.

Mr. Durso said determining the school calendar should be left in the hands of local jurisdictions because it’s a complicated issue that balances operational issues with the educational needs of the community. A blanket order doesn’t take into account what is needed on the county level, where organizations could collaborate.

“[S]ince instituting the collaborative process, our community has consistently determined that it is in the best interest of our students to start school before Labor Day,” he said. “Debates around when schools should start must occur and remain at the local level, where there is a need for flexibility following community feedback and engagement.”

The executive order does permit schools to apply for a waiver to be exempt from the post-Labor Day start date. School systems will have to apply annually for the waiver and provide a “compelling justification” for starting early. The state Education Department will work with those waiver schools to accommodate the “nontraditional” schedules.

Virginia employs a similar waiver system, and many schools are defecting from that state’s post-Labor Day start date. The state about 20 years ago mandated the later start date as a way to make sure businesses along the coast and in other tourist areas didn’t miss out on an extra week of revenue.

Under state law, a school can start its year before Labor Day if it meets a threshold for the number of school days canceled because of weather-related incidents. Eighty school districts out of the 132 total in Virginia have qualified for the waiver this year.

Fairfax County was the latest to meet the waiver qualifications. In May the state’s largest school district announced it would start its year before Labor Day in 2017. The county qualified by having enough snow days over the last decade to qualify for the waiver.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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