- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Wednesday to start Maryland public schools after Labor Day, citing economic and health reasons. Opponents criticized the governor for setting the policy by executive order, ignoring input from educators who largely oppose the idea.

The change is set to take effect next year. It requires public schools to complete the 180 days required under state law. It also requires the school year to end by June 15. The order allows for a waiver, if a school system has a compelling justification.

The Republican governor signed the order on the boardwalk in Ocean City, with Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, by his side. Hogan, who has skirmished with the Democrat-controlled legislature over budget matters, described his decision as a bipartisan one.

“Comptroller Franchot has been a longtime leading advocate of this idea of having Maryland public schools start after Labor Day, as they always did in the past, and I strongly agree with him, because this isn’t just a family issue, it’s an economic and public safety issue, and it’s an issue that draws strong bipartisan support among an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” Hogan said.

Legislative leaders quickly questioned the use of executive order to create the policy, and they were waiting for an attorney general’s opinion on the action.

“Rather than the extraordinary and legally questionable use of the executive order, it would have been more appropriate for the governor to sponsor this matter as an administration bill, which he has never done,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat who described the governor’s boardwalk announcement as “making a press show about an issue over a year in advance while holding hands with the state tax collector.”

Hogan, however, noted that the later school start has won wide support across the state in recent years. The governor also highlighted the findings of a nonpartisan task force, which voted 12-3 in 2014 to recommend schools begin after Labor Day.

Hogan cited health concerns, as well. Noting August as the second-hottest month of the year, the governor said 37 schools in Baltimore County alone don’t have air conditioning and have to close when the temperature is above 90 degrees. Lack of air conditioning in Baltimore County schools has been a point of contention between Hogan and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat weighing a run against the governor in 2018 who has tangled with Hogan over how to address the issue.

Sean Johnson, director of government relations for the Maryland State Education Association, said the governor’s decision was focused on benefiting the bottom line of the tourism industry at the expense of learning.

“It’s abundantly clear that Governor Hogan is more interested in grabbing headlines than employing research-backed solutions that could make a difference for students,” Johnson said.

Legislation to enact the later school start has stalled in recent years with strong opposition from school superintendents.

House Speaker Michael Busch said such a change requires serious discussion with experts in education. The speaker added that he expected discussions about legislation to overturn the policy, if the attorney general 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,” Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said. “That’s why 188 legislators come to Annapolis every year.”

The issue has a significant political component, as Hogan works to demonstrate he is a Republican who is able to work with Democrats to set policies supported by a majority of Marylanders in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2-1.

In addition to Franchot, Sen. James Mathias, a Democrat and former mayor of Ocean City who represents Worcester County, was with the governor on the boardwalk.

“This is what it looks like when we work together to make it happen for Maryland,” Mathias said.

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