(Feb. 1, 2019) Two Maryland Senate bills that would give local school boards the authority to decide when their school years begin and end had hearings before the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee on Wednesday.
The measures, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-22, Prince George’s County) and Sen. Nancy King (D-39, Montgomery County), would take that power from the state board of education and undercut the post-Labor Day start mandate Gov. Larry Hogan approved by executive order in Aug. 2016. Hogan’s order also directed public school systems to end the year no later than June 15.
SB128, sponsored by Pinsky, requires county school boards to set start and end dates for public schools within their jurisdictions, and authorizes each to extend the school year up to five days without state oversight.
SB131, sponsored by King, would permit county boards to extend the school year up to five days after June 15.
Testifying on behalf of SB131 on Wednesday, King said adhering to Hogan’s 2016 school start mandate, coupled with state required 180 days of instruction, has proven challenging for educators.
“Now, my county’s out of snow days and they’re really starting to panic over how we fit all the days in,” she said. “This gives them some flexibility.”
In his testimony in support of SB128, Pinsky suggested that Hogan’s order was politically motivated, and that education policy is more important.
“This bill does not prohibit a school start after labor day,” he said. “It is silent on when school should begin.”
Pinsky said his bill would return authority for deciding school calendars and other instructional matters to Maryland’s two-dozen boards of education — “Who, until two-and-a-half years (ago), for over 50 years, had this authority.”
From Pinsky’s view, the question is who is best suited to make decisions for public school students — local boards or the state.
“Who should have the flexibility to decide the instructional needs of the 700,000 students across the state of Maryland?” he asked.
Pinsky also questioned data showing economic gains touted by state Comptroller Peter Franchot, who championed the post-Labor Day school start.
“It didn’t increase revenue to the state despite the claims of the comptroller,” he said. “It just shifted the spending of money so there’s no appreciable increase in the revenue to the state of Maryland.”
Speaking in opposition to the legislation was Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.
“I figured I better be here because Ocean City might be mentioned,” he said.
Meehan asked if allowing a little more time for family experiences might be more valuable than several days in classrooms during warm weather.
Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Melanie Pursel noted Worcester County adopted the post-Labor Day school launch in 2014 and since that time has achieved standardized test scores well-above state averages.
“Statewide, we have seen a positive impact, and we really want to continue this Maryland tradition,” she said.
Pursel also argued that the issue is about more than economics and tourism.
“It’s about family time and truly enjoying the full summer,” she said. “Not just at the beach, but at our statewide museums, parks, lakes, mountains, historical spots and countless other attractions and activities.”
Meehan said the impacts since the school start date was established as post-Labor Day in 2016 have been positive for families and businesses.
“I don’t see any compelling reasons why this would not continue,” he said. “What I have seen here today has illustrated some very bright, intelligent, resourceful educators who I think can certainly put that intuitiveness to work to manage a calendar between starting school after Labor Day and June 15.”