Bill Allowing Local Boards to Determine School Start Dates Has Hearing This Week

Sens. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) and Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) are sponsoring a bill that would give control of school calendars to the local boards of education.

A proposal from two powerful committee chairmen that would undo one of the most high-profile achievements of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s first term, his order that public school systems in Maryland start class after Labor Day, is meeting with mixed reaction around the state.

Senate Bill 128, sponsored by Sens. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), chair of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, and Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery), chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee, would give control of the school calendar to Maryland’s 24 local boards of education. It is up for a hearing this week.

In an interview, King, a former local board of education president, stressed that she is not opposed to having the school year start after Labor Day, but said she believes the decision should be made by local educators, not the state.

“I think parents love it,” she said. “It makes it feel like summer is longer.”

But the decision needs to be made by the local school systems, she said.

“Either we have local control or we don’t. Whatever one thinks of it, school boards should be able to construct a calendar that meets their local context and needs,” said former Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr. “Additionally, I’m not clear as to any other education policies that Governor Hogan has been so adamant about.”

Hogan (R) signed an executive order requiring local boards to start the school year after Labor Day in 2016, after attempts to achieve the same goal legislatively failed. At the time, he said local boards that wanted an exemption could apply to the state board of education.

Hogan was backed in his endeavor by Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), who spent years urging residents to sign a “Let Summer Be Summer” petition.

During his inaugural address Monday, Franchot attacked those who would rescind the school after Labor Day edict as being part of a closed Annapolis machine that ignores the will of the people on an array of issues.

“Ours is a state where too many of our elected officials prefer loyalty to the special interests over service to the people, who waste so much time and energy to vanquish ideas that have proven to be so popular and so beneficial to the public, and who would rather lecture the people on what they need instead of listening to what they want,” Franchot said. “How else could one possibly explain the behavior of those who stand in pointless opposition to long summers and cold Maryland beer?”

The executive order Hogan signed in 2016 has created a squeeze for Maryland school systems, which have struggled to figure out how to accommodate state requirements that students be in the classroom 180 days without running past the mandatory end-of-year cutoff of June 15.

“It’s very hard to make the numbers work,” King said.

The challenge is particularly acute when inclement weather forces school systems to close.

John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, called the Pinsky-King bill one of his organization’s top priorities for this legislative session.

“Local governance of local school calendars is a given unless you’re living in the Hogan-Franchot ‘keep summer summer world,'” he said.

But a lawmaker who represents Ocean City said she was puzzled that her colleagues would try to reopen the debate.

“I simply don’t understand why we are spending time trying to reverse starting school after Labor Day when we have so many pressing education priorities,” Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Somerset, Worcester, Wicomico) said. “Going back to 2014, we’ve had a legislative task force led by a Maryland State Department of Education official that overwhelmingly voted to endorse a post-Labor Day start.”

Carozza said she has heard from many families, teachers and small business owners across the state who support a later start school date.

“Starting school after Labor Day gives Maryland families more summer vacation days and still allows for local flexibility to determine a school calendar that meets the 180-day instructional requirement,” she said. “There is no solid evidence that a post-Labor Day school start would have a negative impact on test scores, and a later start date can generate significant economic gains.”

A second bill that King is offering seeks to “clarify” that the provision in state law that gives local school boards the ability to extend the school year five days beyond June 15 “is not subject to additional conditions.”

Both measures are scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Jan. 30 in Pinsky’s committee.

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