Board dis­sents on school starts

‘Sorry, gover­nor,’ State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­ber writes about La­bor Day man­date

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Liz Bowie liz.bowie@balt­sun.com

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.

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