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Education Government & Politics

It’s Back to School for Hogan and Franchot

State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, right, conferring with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. at a Board of Public Works meeting last year. File photo

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) sought to re-ignite their long-standing beef with the General Assembly over the public school calendar on Wednesday, launching a renewed call to have classes throughout the state resume after Labor Day.

Their nearly half-hour assault on the legislature’s 2019 action — which gave control over such decisions back to local school boards — included a series of dubious claims that Democratic lawmakers quickly denounced.

Speaking from a prepared text at the start of the Board of Public Works meeting, Hogan said legislation giving county boards of education the power to decide when school starts was approved last year following “undo pressure from a small group of political operatives and special interest groups.”

As a result, Hogan claimed, Maryland is likely to enter a chaotic period in which each school system develops its own calendar.

Said Hogan: “Special interests snuck a bill in and legislators reversed themselves again and ignored the people once again by reversing this common sense action with a misguided piece of legislation that has the potential to cause mass confusion in the fall and in the years ahead with the potential for 24 different start dates over several weeks.

Frequently, when Hogan is discussing education issues, he uses the term “special interests” to refer to the Maryland State Education Association. Teachers’ unions are anathema to many Republican elected officials.

Hogan delivered his remarks a day before both chambers of the legislature will consider whether to override eight Hogan vetoes of bills that passed in 2019.

In 2016, after prodding from Franchot, who launched a years-long “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign, Hogan issued an executive order mandating that all Maryland schools stay shuttered until after Labor Day.

On Wednesday, Franchot claimed that mid-year days off arrive “inexplicably” and “without any warning.”

“This idea that we have to stand in the doorway and reward special interests that are able to have inordinate power at the local level and can impose their school calendars in a willy-nilly, ad hoc way I think has got to end,” the state’s tax collector said.

The teachers’ unions are a potent force in Democratic primaries, and Franchot has said he plans to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022.

Hogan said he plans to introduce legislation, the Universal School Start Act of 2020, to require that all Maryland schools open on the same day — or as he put it, “to return our state to what the citizens actually want and been demanding for many, many years, and that is the school start date after Labor Day.”

It would repeal the law the legislature passed in 2019 and re-establish the executive order. The bill the General Assembly approved in 2019 to restore local decision-making had enough support to withstand a Hogan veto.

Lawmakers on Wednesday sharply rejected Hogan’s claims that their bill was “snuck in,” that “special interests” had a role in their process, or that their decision runs counter to public sentiment.

“There has been no march on local boards in Anne Arundel or Garrett or Frederick or Montgomery, saying ‘you must start after Labor Day,’” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

A longtime teachers’ union leader, Pinsky said counties have advisory groups made up of educators, parents, teachers and students “to help shape their calendar.”

“What the governor — and apparently, the comptroller — want to do is, through autocratic measures, say ‘this is how it should be,’” he said.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D), who serves alongside Franchot and Hogan on the Board of Public Works, shot down the comptroller’s claim that in-service days and other breaks in the calendar arrive without warning.

“There is no school system in the state that doesn’t publish the calendar a year ahead of time,” she said. “Just a fact.”

“The calendar for the schools are set a year in advance, with public input,” said Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s), a veteran educator. “I find those remarks very surprising.”

She also took issue with Hogan’s claim that the legislature acted in the dark of night to work its will on school calendars.

“There’s no such thing as ‘sneaking in a bill’ down here in Annapolis, Maryland,” she said.

Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery) said he has received much positive feedback from the decision to put power back into the hands of local school boards.

“I heard from parents, from teachers, from folks across my district, who wanted the flexibility to be able to set their own calendar,” he said. “If a parent is a ‘special interest,’ then I’m happy to listen to that.”

Pinsky noted that Maryland schools “survived very well” during the decades leading up to Hogan’s executive order, which he called “quasi-legal.”

Having gone through rigorous debate on the issue just a year ago, the legislature is not expected to give Hogan’s proposal much consideration.

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It’s Back to School for Hogan and Franchot