ANNAPOLIS – A bill that will rescind an executive order by Gov. Larry Hogan and give local public school jurisdictions the power to create a calendar that starts classes before Labor Day passed on Feb. 12 with all Democratic lawmakers voting yes in a 31-13 vote.
State Bill 128, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-District 22) would return the authority of the school calendar back to the county’s board of education, allowing districts to start school before Labor Day and end beyond June 15 without the approval from the State Board of Education.
Currently, Maryland public schools start after Labor Day, end before June 15 and must meet the federally mandated 180-day minimum following Gov. Hogan signing an executive order in 2016. The decision was made in order to help the economy of the Eastern Shore with Hogan calling it “saving summer” during the press conference announcing the order.
Prior to Hogan’s executive order, each county school system decided its own calendar.
“I thought that was bad public policy as an educator and as a legislator,” Pinsky said of Hogan’s executive order. “It should be left up to local jurisdictions to decide what is best for their local communities and if they chose to start school after Labor Day or before Labor Day, it is their right.”
Pinsky said that the executive order puts a strain on counties to put together a calendar that meets students’ needs but conflicts with religious holidays, spring breaks, staff training and does not account for severe weather cancelation.
“Local school superintendents, local boards of education and the teachers who work in the schools all said that it created problems,” Pinsky said. “They were not getting instructional days, they had to cut back on professional development and that local boards were actually contemplating cutting religious observation days because they did not have enough days in the calendar.”
Prior to the vote, Hogan announced that he planned to introduce a competing bill that if a school system wanted to start school before Labor Day, it would have to put it for vote on the ballot. According to spokeswoman Shareese Churchill, Hogan’s competing bill will be presented in the upcoming days.
“They are attempting to reverse this policy and we will simply cannot and will not allow misguided and misinformed legislators and special interest groups to turn back the clock,” Hogan said in a press conference following the vote, citing a 2016 Goucher College Poll that stated 67 percent of Maryland citizens supported his executive order.
Despite the animosity between the governor and state Democrats, the bill is not done to defy Hogan but to help the school communities, Sen. Nancy King (D-District 39) said.
King, who had her own bill that would have allowed a county school board to extend the school year past June 15 without approval from the state, supports Pinsky’s attempt to revert power back to the county school boards who know the needs of its citizens best.
“Every one of our 24 counties are extremely different,” King said. “In Montgomery County, we celebrate Eid, Ramadan, the Jewish Holidays and they do not need to celebrate an Eid or Ramadan in Garrett County because they do not have that many Muslim students. What works in one county does not work at every other county.”
King, who served on the Montgomery Board of Education from 1994 until 2002, said the county has already used up their allotted snow days and recently announced that the end of the school year was pushed back one day to June 14 to accommodate the missing time. With more snow in the forecast for the rest of the month, county officials will have to request extra days from the state to meet the federally mandated amount per each school year, according to King.
“My focus is on educating children and not on Ocean City,” King said. “And I knew too many people that had to pay extra money on day-care for those extra two weeks in August. It’s kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul just to go to Ocean City in the final two weeks in August.”
In Prince George’s County, Interim Chief Executive Officer Dr. Monica Goldson voiced similar sentiments, saying in a statement that while she understands the benefits of starting school after the holiday, it limits the school system’s ability to meet their “unique needs” for their communities.
“Returning the decision-making process to those who know their population best will help address summer learning loss, teacher training needs and protect long-established religious holidays and breaks,” Goldson said.
In response to the vote, Hogan announced via Facebook the start of a petition for a referendum to put up to vote. It would require the support of three percent of registered state voters, a number calculated by the number of participates that came out during the governor’s election of last year. The governor blamed senators who supported the executive order in 2016 for changing their decision and supporting the bill.
“This is a bipartisan issue that has the support of the overwhelming majority of Marylanders and was recommended in a 12-3 vote by an expert task force created by the legislature and the previous governor,” Hogan said. “Creating the commission had nearly unanimous support from the legislature, including numerous members who are still in office today who have flip-flopped on the issue just because there’s a governor in office from a different party.”
Following the successful vote, a bill moves on to the State House for vote. If it passes, Hogan can veto the bill, but Democrats hold a three-fifths majority to override it. If the bill becomes law, county school districts could start implementing changes for the 2019-2020 school year.