Later school start will not benefit Charles County
Unless Charles County public schools can finagle a waiver to make it otherwise, classes will start the day after Labor Day in 2017, thanks to an executive order by Gov. Larry Hogan last week.
And some number crunching will be necessary to find 180 instructional days next year, since the governor’s statewide order also requires schools to end by June 15. Some teacher professional days, which have been collectively bargained for, may have to be renegotiated. Spring and winter breaks may have to be shortened.
Hogan (R) made his announcement last Wednesday in Ocean City, the state’s biggest summer tourist draw. Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), who has been pitching the idea of bending the school calendar toward September ever since he took office, was right beside the governor as his pet project got its bipartisan blessing.
Hogan and Franchot are calling this a win-win for the state’s schools and its economy. Students get a longer summer, presumably to vacation with their families and spend more money right here in the Free State. The comptroller’s office points to a 2013 economic impact study by Maryland’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates, which found that a post-Labor Day school start could generate an additional $74.3 million in direct economic activity, including $3.7 million in new wages and $7.7 million in state and local tax revenue.
So everybody wins, right? Not so fast.
There will be losers in this, and they should not be overlooked. “This will hurt kids that come from families of need, big time,” Anna Laughlin, the president of the St. Mary’s teachers union, said the day of the announcement. Laughlin said the later start will mean more days that working parents with limited means must pay for child care for their students. And some families of limited income don’t have books in their homes or access to computers and the internet. They also probably can’t afford the vacations these longer summers would supposedly inspire.
Also, there’s the notion of the governor usurping power from school systems — and their duly elected boards — to control their own calendars.
Charles County Superintendent Kimberly Hill said, “I think it is fair to say that we would advocate for local control of the school calendar. Education is a local responsibility and I believe that local communities and local boards should have the final say, based on sound educational principles.”
But it does seem to be a popular decision. Hogan and Franchot have touted polls from 2014 and 2015 that showed more than 70 percent of Marylanders support a post-Labor Day school start. And a 2013 task force examined the effects of a later start and concluded “there was no compelling evidence that showed there was any impact on education starting post-Labor Day.”
Some in the education field have been openly concerned about the “summer brain drain,” and have argued in the past that shorter summers — not longer ones — are better for students, since a longer break can mean more regression in reading and math, especially for children with learning disabilities or from low-income families. And how will this affect the achievement gap?
All of that, apparently, takes a back seat to tourism.
“This sensible, long-overdue adjustment of Maryland’s public school calendar will be a lifeline for those small, locally owned businesses that are the backbone of our state’s economy,” Franchot said. “It will generate new state revenues that can be reinvested in our classrooms … It will spare tens of thousands of teachers, students and school employees from having to return to sweltering, unhealthy classrooms in the hottest days of August.”
And it magically gets cooler immediately after Labor Day? Please.
Let’s call this what it really is. Franchot, before his election as comptroller, was a legislator from Montgomery County with a liberal reputation. After his election to statewide office, he became an advocate of extending summer vacation for students in order to increase end-of-summer tourism in politically conservative areas of Maryland — Ocean City on the Eastern Shore and Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland — presumably pleasing those voters.
Charles County should absolutely push back and apply for a waiver to the post-Labor Day start of school, although the governor has said such an appeal to the state board of education must offer “compelling justification.” Seems like there is in this case.
There was a time when it made sense in Charles County for schools to start after Labor Day, and it was also an economic reason. Tobacco needed to be topped of its flowers in August, then cut, speared and hung in the barn to cure at the end of the month. Those days are over.
Let summer be summer, but let the school year be the school year. Starting in August.