Later school start will not ben­e­fit Charles County

Maryland Independent - - Com­mu­nity Fo­rum -

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.

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