Board dissents on school starts
‘Sorry, governor,’ State Board of Education member writes about Labor Day mandate
If Gov. Larry Hogan expected the people he appointed to the Maryland State Board of Education to fall in line and support his order not to start school before Labor Day, he guessed wrong.
Chester E. Finn, a former head of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wrote a blog post recently with the headline, “Sorry, Governor.”
Finn was one of Hogan’s first appointees to the school board. He has spent decades weighing in on education policy issues and has written books on various education topics. He supports charter schools and has a penchant for saying exactly how he feels at school board meetings.
In a recent blog post on the Fordham website, Finn began by saying how much he respects Hogan and agrees with most of his policies. “But in all seriousness, and as many others have already noted, he shouldn’t monkey with school calendars,” Finn writes.
Hogan issued an executive order requiring school systems to start school after Labor Day and end by June 15, starting next school year. The full board voted unanimously this week to have its staff draft regulations governing how the board would give waivers to school districts that want to start school before Labor Day.
“I’ll be inclined to vote for every waiver that’s requested,” Finn writes. “But in my. view the state’s chief executive should not be making them ask.”
Finn, like other school board members, says lengthening the summer break by starting school after Labor Day will not be good for children, particularly low-income students whose parents will have to spend more on child care and are least likely to have the money to go to Ocean City or other resorts during the long holiday weekend.
Research has documented that lowincome students lose their grasp of what they learned in school the previous school year over the course of the summer, putting them behind their more affluent peers who have access to more educationally enriching summer opportunities.
School board members are also annoyed by what they consider a power grabr.
“The idea for me that this can be done by fiat, overriding our independence, is deeply and profoundly disturbing,” board member James Gates said at the group’s meeting Tuesday. “I don’t know about most folks. If you tell me I am on an independent board, then I take you at your word.”
Hogan and state Comptroller Peter Franchot have argued that starting after Labor Day could help Ocean City businesses by allowing families an additional opportunity to go to the beach.
Hogan’s order gives the state school board sole discretion to offer waivers to school systems that can provide sound reasons for going against the governor’s mandate. But the governor’s spokesman pointedly noted this week that regulations must first be passed.
Such regulations typically must also go through months of public comment, as well as review by a legislative committee, so it could be early spring before they take effect. In the meantime school districts are now beginning to complete their calendars for the 2017-2018 school year.
If the state school board is to have any impact on next year’s school calendars, it may have to act more swiftly.
Various members of the board signaled to local school boards on Tuesday that they would be happy to accept waivers and would act on them “expeditiously.” So far no school system has asked for one.