Senate Votes to Overturn Order to Start School After Labor Day

    The debate over whether to require schools to start after Labor Day heads to the House of Delegates, after a veto-proof Senate majority passed a bill overturning Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s executive order from 2016.

    The Senate voted 31-13 along party lines Tuesday morning to advance Senate Bill 128 sponsored by Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chair Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s).

    But not before a little more debate on the issue that consumed multiple floor sessions last week.

    Republican lawmakers, knowing the votes were stacked against them, called it hypocrisy that Democrats were standing up so strongly for local school board control on the calendar issue when the General Assembly passes any number of local mandates on education every year.

    “We mandate all manner of things on our county boards of education,” Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) said. “Maybe I’d be willing to trade my vote on this one if we could go back and revisit about 10 or 12 or 15 of the mandates that we put that actually cost our county governments a lot more money.”

    Republican lawmakers also argued that the General Assembly was going against the will of state residents, who overwhelmingly support a post-Labor Day start date in public polling.

    Hogan (R) has promised to seek his own legislation this year to codify his executive order and require school districts to seek the approval of local voters if they want to start the school year before Labor Day. If Pinsky’s bill passes the General Assembly, Hogan promised last week that an effort would be launched to send the issue to referendum.

    “It will be interesting to see what happens if this does go to the ballot,” Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore, Harford) said. “Because maybe we’ll be back here in ’20 or ’21 saying well, we were wrong on this bill.”

    Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) said his party will continue to work to defeat Pinsky’s bill in the House of Delegates.

    But Senate Democrats pressed forward with the bill, which several lawmakers noted doesn’t require schools to start before Labor Day, but gives all decision-making back to local boards.

    “With all the different issues that a school system is dealing with now, with religious holidays that some counties celebrate and other counties don’t, I just think the whole decision for the school calendar needs to be with the county school boards,” Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery) said.

    Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said what frustrated him the most about the ongoing debate was that “it feels like a distraction from the real work of this body.”

    “At the end of the day, we have some really, really severe and big challenges ahead of us,” he said.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.