The question of who should decide when schools start in Maryland continues to be up for debate in Annapolis.
More than two years after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered public schools to begin classes after Labor Day, a Senate panel has approved legislation that would let school districts determine when school starts and ends.
The full Senate is expected to consider the measure for preliminary approval on Thursday.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would return the authority to decide the calendar to the state’s 24 school districts, “a responsibility they’ve had for about 50 years up until about 2½ years ago.”
The legislative action renews one of the biggest firestorms between Hogan and the legislature, just a week after Hogan touted his ability to collaborate with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
Hogan surprised Democratic legislative leaders in 2016 when he signed an executive order requiring districts to complete the mandated 180-day school year by June 15 but start classes after Labor Day. At the time, all but one of Maryland’s school districts opened in August.
The governor said delaying the start of the school year would be good for businesses, families and the environment because schools would not have to use air-conditioning in the hot summer months.
Educators worried that the calendar decree could eat into academic preparation for students and said it flew in the face of efforts across the country to expand — not contract — the academic school year amid fears of summer learning loss.
The executive order led to questions from the state attorney general over whether the governor had exceeded his authority and the resignation of the vice president of the state Board of Education, who accused the governor of not respecting the board’s independence and potentially putting students at academic risk.
Several school systems have cancelled days of spring break or other time off for students to schedule 180 days of school between Labor Day and mid-June.
Over the past week, Hogan has lashed out at Democrats on his personal Facebook page for trying to undo his order, accusing “partisan legislators” of “trying to turn back the clock on the progress we have made.” He is asking Facebook followers to sign a petition to stop the legislation from moving forward.
Hogan on Wednesday called the Senate bill “an incredibly stupid idea,” adding that polling shows that 73 percent of Marylanders approve of a post-Labor Day start. He said his executive order followed a recommendation from a 2013 commission, which the legislature failed to act on.
The bill is a top priority of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, which says school boards need flexibility to create their annual school calendars.
“Local boards of education confront a significant challenge to being able to make school calendar decisions in the best interests of student learning,” said John R. Woolums, the association’s director of government relations.
Steven Hershkowitz, a spokesman for the Maryland State Educators Association, said the state teachers union also supports returning the decision-making process to educators, parents and the communities in each district.
“We just believe it should be a local decision, not a state mandate,” he said. “This is ultimately about what works best for a local community.”
The vote in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee was 7 to 4, with all Republicans voting no.
“It makes no sense at all for the legislature to go backwards when an overwhelming majority of Marylanders, including teachers and parents, support starting school after Labor Day,” said Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Worcester), who sits on the committee. “Maryland families deserve to spend Labor Day weekend together and enjoy that time together before starting school.”