Governor Suggests Letting Voters Decide Opening Dates for Schools

Bill in state Senate would give local districts the authority to set first-day schedules

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Before the state Senate could consider a bill that would give county school boards the power to decide when schools open for the year, Maryland’s governor on Thursday made another plea for its defeat in the form of a “compromise.”

Gov. Larry Hogan, who issued an executive order in 2016 requiring schools to open after Labor Day, said at a morning news conference the idea for local districts to determine when to open is based on “fabricated nonsense” and said he intends to file legislation to counter Senate Bill 128.

The Senate bill, which has support of local school board members, would repeal Hogan’s start-date order.

Hogan said his compromise includes a ballot referendum question and “any school system that attempts to evade the law and start school after Labor Day” would be required to send the proposal to a public vote.

If the state legislature doesn’t take up his legislation in place of Senate Bill 128, Hogan said local school boards that want to start school before the holiday will feel the wrath of residents.

“Let me also be clear that if their bill passes without giving local citizens control, there will be a petition to referendum, and people will gather the required signatures from one corner of the state to another, it will be placed on the ballot and there is a 100 percent chance the voters will overturn any action by the legislature … and school after Labor Day will remain the law in this state,” Hogan said.

Hogan’s 2016 order, which was met with criticism as schools have rejiggered academic calendars, was made to promote small businesses through the holiday and “protect the traditional end of summer.”

Local leaders say Hogan’s executive order has put them in an unnecessary scheduling crunch.

Hogan said the bill would “turn back the clock” on education issues, despite what he called support from the “overwhelming majority of Marylanders.”

In a news release this week, Hogan cited a Goucher College poll from 2016 that showed 67 percent of state residents supported his executive order and refuted claims he acted “unilaterally” by issuing the order.

On Thursday, Hogan said a vocal group of “out-of-touch” legislators and “paid political operatives” have spread copious amounts of misinformation about post-Labor Day school starts and “ignore the will of Marylanders.”

“I can’t think of any other action that has as much widespread enthusiastic support all across the state as this one does,” Hogan said.

The governor went on to disagree with arguments made by county school board members saying the restriction makes it difficult to accommodate school closures due to weather or other emergencies and strains their ability to construct a calendar that closes schools in observation of certain holidays not recognized by the state.

The proposed bill still mandates students attend 180 days of classes and receive at least 1,080 hours of instruction each academic year.

He cites a bill passed in the legislature last year that allows schools to extend the length of the academic year up to five days beyond June 15 without approval from the state Board of Education.

Ultimately, Hogan said he is confident the legislature will be unsuccessful in passing Senate Bill 128.

“Regardless of what action the legislature attempts to take, they will fail,” Hogan said. “Marylanders will have the deciding vote on this one way or another.”

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