Commentary

printed 01/25/2019

Ocean City’s opposition to a pair of bills in the Maryland General Assembly that would do away with the mandatory post-Labor Day school start needs to take a thoughtful approach.

The measures would allow Maryland counties to determine their school years themselves, rather than have to abide by the rules of state government.

Although Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order requiring public schools to begin their year after Labor Day led to a substantial boost in Ocean City business last summer, the resort’s argument needs to protect itself from a possible backlash from other counties.

Simply put, all local jurisdictions would rather make their own decisions than have the state government do it for them, whether it involves schools, septic systems, stormwater runoff, fire codes, wind farms or any other similarly regulated circumstance.

Obviously, a post-Labor Day start of school is in Ocean City’s and Worcester County’s best interests. By increasing local commerce, it helps a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in Maryland. It also raises the value of vacation properties, hotels, motels and restaurants, and that, in turn, produces more tax revenue for state government — and schools — and it generates significantly more solid sales tax collections.

As both Gov. Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot said repeatedly in their campaigns to institute the post-Labor Day school start, it makes sense from an economic standpoint, while leaving untouched the 180-days-of-school requirement.

What Ocean City doesn’t need is to be unflatteringly portrayed in this debate as simply wanting more money at the expense of other counties’ public school students.

It needs to argue that 180 days is 180 days no matter when the clock starts ticking, that the resort’s contributions to the state — and indirectly to other counties — are substantial, and that no government values solid education more than Worcester, as has been proven by the outstanding performance of its schools.

In addition, numerous studies have shown that the school calendar is less important in the learning process than small class sizes and peer tutoring.

A good argument against these bills would be that reducing class sizes and providing more summer enrichment programs, while also adding to the state’s economy by giving families and vactioners one last week of summer, has to be an answer that everyone can support.

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