Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has ordered public schools in the state to extend summer recess until after Labor Day beginning in 2017, setting off an immediate battle with school officials and Democratic legislative leaders.
His effort runs counter to the trend of starting school earlier in many parts of the country in an effort to bridge the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap, maximize opportunities to prepare students for standardized testing and limit the time that working families need to pay for child care.
“School after Labor Day is now the law of the land in Maryland,” Hogan said at a news conference Wednesday in the beach resort town of Ocean City. He was flanked by Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D-Worcester), both longtime advocates for a later start date.
The governor’s executive order requires that school systems complete 180 days of class by June 15. Districts can apply to the state board of education for waivers exempting them from the requirements.
Hogan noted that parents across the state have expressed enthusiastic support for a later start date. In downtown Annapolis on Wednesday, mental-health therapist Ebony Hicks said the change would be beneficial for her two teenagers, who attend high school in Baltimore.
“They study a lot during the school year in an academically intense school, so it’s nice to give them more time to be off,” Hicks said.
But Michael A. Durso, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, said the state’s largest school district strongly opposed Hogan’s action, which he said “ignores critical issues faced by schools and the potential negative instructional impact on students.”
Many experts say long summer breaks hurt students who struggle academically, especially poorer children who lack access to enriching summer camps and programs. Some high-poverty schools have attributed gains in classroom achievement in part to their decision to shorten summer recess.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) called the executive order signed by Hogan “extraordinary and legally questionable.” He accused the governor of caring more about promoting summer tourism than advancing school achievement.
“Making a press show about this issue . . . while holding hands with the state tax collector appears like political gamesmanship,” Miller said.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), vice chairman of the Senate education committee, said he has asked the state attorney general’s office to look into “the legality and constitutionality of the governor taking authority away from local jurisdictions in setting the school year calendar.”
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the legislature, which has strong Democratic majorities in both chambers, could consider a bill negating Hogan’s order. “We certainly think the attorney general will rule against this,” Busch said. “And if he doesn’t, I think obviously we’ll have a discussion about taking the issue up.”
Mathias, who represents Ocean City, has sponsored legislation to delay the statewide start date for the past several years. The measures died in committee.
Maryland State Education Association spokesman Sean Johnson said a later start date would “worsen summer brain drain among students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds” and adds to the financial burden for families.
But Megan Curtis, a single parent from Annapolis who works in home-appliance sales, said she would be happy to pay for more day care for her young son to extend summer a bit longer.
“I’d much rather him be more comfortable and have more time with friends than be tied to school,” Curtis said. “He’s a second-grader. He needs his summer and time with friends.”
Andrew Smarick, president of the state board of education and a Hogan appointee, acknowledged that some high-poverty schools have increased academic achievement by increasing instructional time.
He said the board has not yet met to discuss Hogan’s order or what might constitute a good reason for starting school before Labor Day. “The state board will have to consider what constitutes a compelling justification, including the needs of particular groups of students,” Smarick said.
Virginia, which passed a law 20 years ago requiring schools to start after Labor Day, also allows individual districts to seek exemption waivers. Fairfax County, the state’s largest jurisdiction, is one of the latest to seek such a waiver; it will start school before Labor Day beginning next year.
Hogan cited a Goucher poll showing strong support among Maryland residents for starting school after Labor Day, and noted that such a change was recommended by a bipartisan task force created by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
But the Maryland Association of Boards of Education said it “strongly opposes this initiative as contrary to the principle of local governance, and the traditional role of boards of education and their communities in setting school calendars.”
Longtime Montgomery County school board member Patricia O’Neill said it would be “nearly impossible” to design a 180-day school year that starts after Labor Day, ends by June 15, sets aside time for holidays, compensates for snow days and meets contractual obligations for teacher professional days.
“I think spring break could be at risk,” she said.
Prince George’s County Public Schools spokeswoman Raven Hill said calendar decisions “are best made by local communities, with raising student achievement as the goal, rather than increasing tourism.”
Donna St. George and Emma Brown contributed to this report.