Don’t knock Md. tourism

Post-La­bor Day school helps a key in­dus­try without hurt­ing ed­u­ca­tion

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Chris Riehl Chris Riehl is owner of Bal­ti­more Rent-A-Tour and a mem­ber of the Mary­land Tourism Coali­tion. His email is chris@renta­tour.com.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der that a post-La­bor Day school start will now be the law of the land in Mary­land was met with strong op­po­si­tion even be­fore the an­nounce­ment was made on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in Ocean City. In fact, The Sun’s editorial op­pos­ing the idea was pub­lished on Wed­nes­day morn­ing (“La­bor Day Mad­ness,” Aug. 31).

In out­lin­ing their op­po­si­tion, The Sun’s ed­i­tors paint a bleak pic­ture for Mary­land stu­dents as a re­sult of the gover­nor’s or­der, com­plete with low­ered aca­demic stan­dards and other dire con­se­quences, while also cast­ing Mary­land’s tourism com­mu­nity, and Ocean City in par­tic­u­lar, as vil­lains con­cerned only about their own fi­nan­cial prospects.

Of course a longer sum­mer ben­e­fits busi­nesses in Ocean City, but it also ben­e­fits the tourism in­dus­try at large, which in turn ben­e­fits the peo­ple of Mary­land. Tourism isn’t lim­ited only to Ocean City. From the ma­jes­tic moun­tains of Gar­rett County to the his­toric towns of South­ern Mary­land to the count­less cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional at­trac­tions right here in Bal­ti­more, tourism drives eco­nomic growth in ev­ery cor­ner of our great state. Tourism is the 10th largest pri­vate sec­tor em­ployer in the state, di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for over 140,000 jobs and nearly $5 bil­lion in wages. Of­ten times, the in­dus­try pro­vides those new to the work­force with en­try level op­por­tu­ni­ties that can grow into long, lu­cra­tive, and ex­tremely ful­fill­ing ca­reers. But the in­dus­try isn’t just large ho­tels, at­trac­tions, and restau­rants. It’s also hun­dreds of small busi­nesses, from gift shops to guide ser­vices. Vis­i­tors to our state spend over $15 bil­lion each year, re­sult­ing in over $2 bil­lion in state and lo­cal tax rev­enues. The truth is, if all the tax rev­enue gen­er­ated by the tourism in­dus­try sud­denly dis­ap­peared, ev­ery Mary­land fam­ily would have to pay an ad­di­tional $1,010 in taxes to make up the dif­fer­ence. Ac­cord­ing to the comptroller’s of­fice, a later school start will spur an ad­di­tional $74.3 mil­lion of di­rect eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity. That’s good news, es­pe­cially on the same day The Sun re­ported that the state’s rev­enue col­lec­tion is down $250 mil­lion from last year’s es­ti­mates. In­creased eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and the tax rev­enues that come along with it will help pay for state wide im­prove­ments in in­fras­truc­ture, pub­lic safety and, yes, ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing ex­panded sum­mer en­rich­ment pro­grams. These are im­por­tant pri­or­i­ties for all Mary­lan­ders, in­clud­ing those of us in the tourism com­mu­nity.

A post-La­bor Day school start is not an ex­treme idea. Those who fear for our stu­dents should note that Vir­ginia in­sti­tuted a sim­i­lar law in1986, and stu­dent test scores in that state have not de­clined as a re­sult. Mary­land has been con­sid­er­ing this ini­tia­tive at least since 2013. In May 2014, af­ter nine months of care­ful study and con­sid­er­a­tion, a statewide task force ap­pointed by Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley voted 11-4 in fa­vor of a post-La­bor Day school start. This non-par­ti­san task force in­cluded teach­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tors and par­ents in ad­di­tion to legislators and small busi­ness own­ers. In fact, be­fore leav­ing of­fice, Gover­nor O’Mal­ley him­self joined Comptroller Fran­chot, Gover­nor-Elect Ho­gan, and nearly 25,000 other Mary­lan­ders in sign­ing a pe­ti­tion sup­port­ing the ini­tia­tive.

For those con­cerned about the au­thor­ity of lo­cal school boards to for­mu­late their own aca­demic cal­en­dars, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that this law still al­lows those lo­cal of­fi­cials au­ton­omy over sched­ul­ing, pro­vided classes do not be­gin be­fore La­bor Day. The same 180 in­struc­tional days are still re­quired, and there is a pro­vi­sion that al­lows dis­tricts to ap­ply for a waiver if they can demon­strate ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances.

Near the end of its editorial, The Sun sin­gles out Ocean City as re­spon­si­ble for the gover­nor’s ac­tions and ir­re­spon­si­bly sug­gests that op­po­nents might di­rect their “ire” at the Eastern Shore town be­fore un­nec­es­sar­ily ref­er­enc­ing Ocean City’s “crime, pub­lic brawls, un­der­age drink­ing and floods,” all of which have ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with the mat­ter at hand. Then there is the in­ex­pli­ca­ble im­pli­ca­tion that some­how, as a re­sult of this man­date, Mary­land’s youth will sud­denly be “looked upon first as dish­wash­ers and pizza de­liv­er­ers rather than fu­ture sci­en­tists or tech wizards,” fol­lowed by the com­pletely un­founded warn­ing that our “bul­ly­ing” gover­nor might next de­cide to man­date the teach­ing of cre­ation­ism in our class­rooms or ban sex ed­u­ca­tion.

As a life­long Mary­lan­der, a prod­uct of Mary­land pub­lic schools, and now a proud mem­ber of the tourism com­mu­nity, I know that we can con­tinue to make ed­u­ca­tion a top pri­or­ity in our state while also sup­port­ing an in­dus­try that means so much to so many.

CAITLIN FAW/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Gov. Larry Ho­gan signs an ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quir­ing Mary­land pub­lic schools to be­gin af­ter La­bor Day start­ing next year.

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