Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order requiring school years to start after Labor Day moves the state in the direction opposite to what Montgomery County has been pursuing, the county’s teachers union president said Wednesday.
Montgomery County Public Schools is considering starting school two weeks before Labor Day so that students can get in as much instructional time before high-stakes exams in mid-May, said Chris Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Teachers Association.
Advanced Placement tests, International Baccalaureate exams, the SAT and other important assessments take place around then.
“We think local school systems are in the best position to choose an appropriate start date,” Lloyd said.
Hogan’s order requires schools, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, to start after Labor Day and complete the 180 days of the school year by June 15. He signed the order during a press conference in Ocean City, citing the benefits to state tourism, and polls that showed more than 70 percent of state residents support the proposal. According to a 2013 study by the state’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates, a post-Labor Day school start would generate $74.3 million more in direct economic activity, including $3.7 million in new wages and $7.7 million in state and local tax revenue.
The executive order does permit school districts to provide annually a “compelling justification” in applying for a waiver to the Maryland State Department of Education.
Lloyd expected MCPS would need to shorten winter and spring breaks to fulfill the executive order. Shortening those breaks, he said, would be highly disruptive to county families. Winter break, which includes Christmas and New Year’s Day, is a time for families, he said, and spring break is used by many to visit colleges and take vacations.
“So I think it would promote a lot of discussion in this county,” he said. “There’s a lot to be seen as to how this plays out.”
Lloyd said he expected the county’s General Assembly delegation to ask whether the governor has the legal authority to craft such an order. He also expected the legislators to try to return to the school districts the flexibility they have now in determining school calendars.
Although several county lawmakers side with the teachers union on the issue, Hogan’s office released a statement that included a number of county legislators who support the later start date. They were: District 17 Del. Kumar Barve, District 20 Del. Sheila Hixson and District 15 Del. Aruna Miller. Barve and Miller co-sponsored legislation in 2013 to start school after Labor Day.
District 14 Del. Anne Kaiser said similar proposals have come before the General Assembly in previous years.
“I’ve always asked the question every year: What does this have to do with students and what does this have to do with teaching? And I never get a satisfactory answer,” said Kaiser, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles education issues.
District 16 Del. Ariana Kelly said she graduated from MCPS when school started after Labor Day, so she understands the appeal. Still, Montgomery County involves parents, among others, in crafting each year’s calendar, she noted.
“The governor acted in a statewide manner without consulting the largest school district. That shows where the priority is,” Kelly said.
Sean Johnson, government relations director for the Maryland State Education Association, called the move a “summer tax” because parents will have to find the money to cover more child care.
He cited Maryland Family Network statistics that say Montgomery County families spend $26,600 a year for child care. “We’re going to be adding to that,” he said.
Johnson said Maryland can be divided into those who can afford the extra child care and those who can’t. Those who can’t, he said, have students who are already dealing with achievement gap issues. The executive order, he said, “codifies that brain drain.”
Said Lloyd: “It seems to me at a time when we’re trying to maximize instructional time…that this is a move in the wrong direction.”
County Council member Craig Rice, chairman of the council's Education Committee, said some of his constituents travel all over the place, not just Ocean City, during the summer. He wanted to know what effect the school date changes would have on curriculum or testing.
“Nobody talked about these kinds of things,” he said. “Those are the things that are important to us, not just a few more funnel cakes sold on the boardwalk.”