HAND IT to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), for political savvy at least, in choosing the Ocean City boardwalk as backdrop for his announcement that Maryland public schools cannot open until after Labor Day starting next year. Give him less credit for caring about the educational needs of the state’s students. In fact, we would say it is a sad day when education policy is driven by Tilt-A-Whirl attendance in Ocean City rather than what’s best for students. Let’s hope lawmakers figure out a way to return rationality to this matter.
Mr. Hogan on Wednesday announced that he had signed an executive order mandating that public schools begin classes after Labor Day and complete the state-required 180 days of instruction by June 15. The order would take effect with the 2017-2018 school year. “School after Labor Day is now the law of the land,” he crowed, flanked by Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who has made a crusade out of extending summer vacations from school.
Setting the school calendar traditionally has been left up to local jurisdictions; only one — Worcester County, home to Ocean City — starts after Labor Day. Montgomery, Prince George’s and other systems have good reasons for starting earlier. Research shows that students, especially low-income students, lose ground if vacations go on too long. In addition, many tests, such as those for high school Advanced Placement courses, are given in early May. Pushing back the school year robs schools of valuable time to prepare students for these tests, while pretty much guaranteeing that the final weeks of school will be wasted. The trend nationwide has been for earlier school starts and more days of school.
Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, who previously beat back pressure from tourism and business interests for a post-Labor Day start, questioned the legality of the governor’s order. They have asked for a legal opinion from the state attorney general. For his part, Mr. Hogan said his legal counsel advised him of his authority under the state constitution. With polls showing popular support for an extended summer, he practically dared lawmakers to undo his order with legislation. They “would probably lose their jobs,” he said.
The order does allow local school districts to ask for a waiver of the late start from the Maryland State Board of Education, but it is unclear what standards the board would use. That puts local school boards, which typically would set calendars for 2017-2018 this fall, in a bind. Do they hope there will be an end run around the governor’s order, or do they cut teacher development days, time off for religious holidays or spring break? That dilemma does not seem to trouble Mr. Hogan.