Local school officials in Maryland have been clamoring for more flexibility in creating their calendars since Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered them to open schools after Labor Day and close them by June 15.
Now, the Maryland General Assembly is quickly moving to give school districts, and even some parents, what they have been asking for.
The House of Delegates on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would allow school districts to extend the school year five days beyond Hogan’s June 15 cutoff, without receiving a waiver from the state Board of Education. School would still have to begin after Labor Day.
In an unexpected move, a spokeswoman for Hogan said the governor is supportive of the legislation put forward by state Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) and will sign it into law.
“It is accepted fact that the vast majority of Marylanders — including parents and teachers — support a return to a common sense school calendar that starts after Labor Day, an initiative that had strong bipartisan support long before Governor Hogan’s executive order,” Amelia Chasse said in a statement. But she said the governor recognizes “that unforeseen inclement weather can happen — often frequently in our state — and schools occasionally need additional flexibility.”
The passage of King’s bill came amid a day otherwise marked by clashes between the Democratic-controlled legislature and Hogan, with the Senate giving initial approval to a bill that would strip state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) — an ally of Hogan — of his role in awarding funds for school construction.
The bill’s proponents say replacing the three-member Board of Public Works, which includes the comptroller, the governor and the state treasurer, with an appointed commission would depoliticize the sometimes fraught annual process of weighing the needs of school leaders requesting funds for construction from Annapolis. Its opponents, Hogan and Franchot chief among them, say the measure is a politically motivated attack on Franchot, who has clashed with leaders in both chambers.
The school calendar measure heads back to the Senate, which approved the bill last week. The Senate now must take up a House amendment that makes the bill an emergency measure.
“We’re delighted that the General Assembly agrees with us that local districts should have the flexibility to adopt their own annual school calendars beyond the tight confines of the governor’s executive order,” said John R. Woolums, the director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
Woolums said school officials predicted that the executive order would create havoc for them as they tried to fashion schedules that accommodate religious holidays and a full spring break.
School district officials, who have been closely watching the bill’s prospects, were elated to learn that the bill could be approved this session.
“Flexibility in the school calendar is an emergency situation for us and many school districts in the state,” said John White, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools.
White said Prince George’s County officials built the county’s calendar within the confines of the governor’s mandate, but snow closings this year have left students with a five-day spring break this year, instead of the normal 10-day vacation.
The state Senate engaged in a spirited debate Wednesday over the bill to remove the comptroller from the construction process, with Republican lawmakers attacking the bill as political and hastily put together. On Wednesday night, the Senate gave initial approval to the legislation, which was approved Tuesday by the House. The Senate is expected to give final approval to the bill Thursday.
“This is an attempt to be as apolitical as possible in an inherently political process,” said state Sen. William C. Ferguson IV (D-Baltimore City).
But Hogan, who has leveled sharp criticism against the bill, called it “simply outrageous” during a Board of Public Works meeting on Wednesday.
He said he would veto the bill, which would also mandate a comprehensive public school facilities assessment and allocate $400 million annually to school construction, if it reaches his desk.
Also Wednesday, the Senate gave final approval to a bill that makes practicing “gay conversion therapy” on minors illegal, despite concerns from some Republican lawmakers who said the legislation is too broad in its scope and does not include religious exemptions.
State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who is openly gay and the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation — which will next advance to the House of Delegates — would protect vulnerable children from having participating in the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy.
In other action, the House gave final legislative approval to a bill that allows for automatic voter registration at various state agencies, including the Motor Vehicle Administration and the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. The legislation would also allow potential voters to register when they electronically file their state income tax returns.
The bill now heads to the governor.
“Maryland’s move today is further proof that the momentum for automatic voter registration continues,” Natalie E. Tennant, manager for state advocacy at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said in a statement.