Legislation would empower counties to pick start dates
(Jan. 25, 2019) The Maryland public schools post-Labor Day start mandate, which Gov. Larry Hogan approved by executive order in Aug. 2016, could be effectively repealed during the General Assembly 2019 Session by proposed legislation granting jurisdictional discretion in establishing academic calendars.
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-22, Prince George’s County) and Sen. Nancy King (D-39, Montgomery County) introduced twin bills before the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee last Friday that would empower county school boards to set start/end dates for public schools without State Board of Education approval.
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 the up to five-day school year extension after June 15.
In addition to requiring Maryland schools to start classes after Labor Day, Hogan’s executive order obliges them to end their school year by June 15.
In response this week, Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Melanie Pursel issued a “Legislative Call to Action,” seeking input from opposition voices among membership and the general public.
Pursel wants to compile examples of positive impacts Hogan’s executive order has had on individual businesses, as well as the resort and state, while highlighting intangible elements beyond economic measure.
“Most importantly, this allows Maryland families additional time together,” she said. “It is not just about economics, it is about family time and truly enjoying a full summer during childhood.”
Hogan and state Comptroller Peter Franchot staged a press conference on the Ocean City Boardwalk to sign the executive order for post-Labor Day school on Aug. 31, 2016, which became effective as of the 2017-2018 academic year.
During the announcement, Hogan noted the executive order included a waiver provision for school systems with compelling justifications to apply to the State Board of Education to be exempted from the post-Labor Day start.
Within 20 minutes of Hogan signing the executive order, the Maryland State Education Association issued a press release opposing the change.
The issue originally caught fire in 2013 after Franchot’s office conducted a study that found beginning the school year after Labor Day could garner the state an additional $74.3 million in direct economic activity, with a $7.7 million boost in new state and local government revenue.
The report also estimated that approximately 8.5 percent of Maryland’s 514,680 families with school-age children would take a new day or overnight trip within the state, with roughly 5.2 percent venturing out of state, while the remaining families would invest at least one additional day involved in family activities.
In 2014, the Maryland Legislature established a task force to study the impact of a post-Labor Day start for public schools. The task force reported that all 24 school districts would oppose legislation that removes decision-making power regarding the school calendar from local school boards.
School superintendents who testified at that time before the task force expressed a preference to have calendar decisions made at the local level because of varying needs and flexibility related to student populations, geography, inclement weather, community interests and concerns over facilities lacking air conditioning.
Despite apparent opposition, the task force voted 12-3 to support starting schools after Labor Day.
Subsequently, a report from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services noted that the bulk of the direct economic activity occurring from the school year change might not be additional money, but the same money spent at a different time.
The legislative study also found that within the broader context of Maryland’s economy and consumer budget restraints, an increase in recreational spending during August would largely be offset by reductions in spending during other times or on other goods and services.
Worcester County shifted its calendar to adopt the post-Labor Day starting date in 2014.
In the call to action communication sent to chamber members this week, Pursel said the post-Labor Day school start mandate has already yielded positive results in Ocean City, with 2018 Room Tax up 6.6 percent and Tourism-coded Sales Tax up 7.3 percent.
Pursel is currently collecting written responses and soliciting people to testify on Jan. 30 in Annapolis, when both bills have committee hearings scheduled.
Business owners and area residents can email Pursel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We need to hear from you in opposition to both bills to prevent this from happening,” she said.