Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s push for a statewide post-Labor Day school start got another airing in the General Assembly on Friday ― but the 20-minute hearing was breezy as a beach day.
House Bill 743, The Universal School Start Act of 2020, would restore a September school start date for all public schools in Maryland, a short-lived Hogan policy that he enacted by executive order in 2016 before it was overturned by the legislature in 2019.
The bill was presented to the House Ways and Means Committee by Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., Hogan’s chief legislative officer, and Ali Keane, deputy legislative officer.
After a less-than-one-minute pitch, the governor’s office invited questions from the committee. Grinning, Mitchell suggested that he’d welcome softball questions.
Chairwoman Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery), also in a jovial mood, didn’t oblige.
“Have any of the school boards or any superintendents of our 24 very widely-diverse jurisdictions asked for this?” Kaiser asked.
“Speaking of diverse jurisdictions, Madame Chair, the governor travels all over the state. And wherever he goes, there are folks ― parents, teachers and children ― that have asked him about school after Labor Day,” Mitchell said. “Hence, that’s why you have this bill.”
Kaiser responded: “So to be clear, no superintendent or board of education has asked for this?”
“No,” and “No,” responded the governor’s representatives.
Del. Haven Shoemaker (R-Carroll), who called himself “living proof of what can happen if you start school after Labor Day,” asked the governor’s representatives about the economic benefit of the bill.
Having a set universal start date would allow for more vacation time and tourism. “Let summer be summer,” Mitchell said, repeating a slogan used by advocates of the later school start date.
Del. Alice Cain (D-Anne Arundel) said she’s heard mixed opinions from residents about the post-Labor Day start date, but universal concerns among teachers about the loss of professional development days during the school year.
Hogan’s new school-start bill doesn’t include a hard end-date ― as his executive order did ― so schools would have more flexibility to schedule days off during the year than previously, Keane said.
That means that “summer being summer” could still be an issue if school years are pressed out until late June, Cain noted.
Del. Wayne A. Hartman (R-Lower Shore) asked if the governor’s office had polling on the popularity of a post-Labor Day start date they could share with the committee.
“Oh, I do!” Kaiser responded.
She said 67% of people supported a post-Labor Day start date in 2016, a figure that had dropped to 56% as of 2019. However, she added, when you narrow the responses to voters between 35 and 54 ― those most likely to have school-aged children ― there’s a statistical tie at 48% between those who support a post-Labor Day start and those who prefer local autonomy.
“We had 71% in our poll,” Keane responded. Mitchell said he would be happy to provide recent polling data to the committee.
“But we are an administration that does not govern on polls,” he said, to giggles around the room.
In more serious moments, delegates asked questions about a later start date’s impact on advanced placement test scores, as well as economic impacts.
There were only two people who testified about the bill, both in support: Chris Riehl, owner of Rent A Tour in Baltimore City, and Melanie Pursel, president and CEO of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, who testified on behalf of that organization, the city and the Marylanders for a Longer Summer Coalition.
Before the governor’s representatives left the hearing, Kaiser said she hoped the hearing wasn’t “too painful.”
“We look forward to the favorable report,” Mitchell teased.