A Maryland task force began its work in September to determine if a starting date for school calendars after the Labor Day weekend would be a good idea, and at their May 20 meeting, the task force voted 11-4 to recommend that all schools in the state start after Labor Day, the Baltimore Sun reports.
As of this writing, the official minutes haven’t been posted, but they will be soon, on the task force’s official site at the Maryland State Department of Education.
Superintendents in Maryland generally oppose the idea of the state imposing a specific start date, saying it takes a slice out of local control and makes them less flexible to respond to the needs of their students, such as preparing for Advanced Placement tests. The Sun, for example, quoted Baltimore County Superintendent of Schools S Dallas Dance as saying that “a state mandate requiring each school system to open the school year after Labor Day would … require school systems to extend the school year into the latter part of June or shorten winter and spring breaks, which are important to families.”
But business owners and, it would appear, the general public think they will have more profitable years if kids get an extra week or two at the end of summer to take one more family trip to Ocean City or Deep Creek Lake. First, we note that Worcester County’s school board, where Ocean City is located, already voted to start school in the fall on Sept 2, the day after Labor Day. But in 2015, Labor Day is much later, on Sept 7. State Comptroller Peter Franchot estimates that the later start date would “have a $74.3 million effect on the state economy,” the Sun reported, by which I take it he means it would increase the revenue to local businesses in prime vacation sites. He also said it would bring in an additional $7.7 million through higher tax revenue.
Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery is on record as agreeing with the majority of superintendents in the state. Speaking at a task force meeting in January, on a day when many school systems closed because of inclement weather, she said, “That was a local decision, and they had to look at the needs that were unique to their counties before making a decision. No one precludes anyone from making a decision to open after Labor Day. … We believe that the local jurisdictions should have the flexibility to make those decisions.”
The Frederick News-Post, in an editorial on May 25, said having the state impose a start date after Labor Day would be an overreach. “While Worcester County may want to take advantage of the big Labor Day weekend, Frederick County may see the matter differently,” the editors wrote. “The state exercises enough control over local matters as it is, including education. Forbidding school districts a pre-Labor Day opening, for whatever reason, would be a flagrant overreaching of state authority and an unwarranted infringement of local autonomy.”
The Washington Post quoted Mr Franchot as saying his main concern about the school calendar is that the date would keep inching earlier and earlier. I can report that some school districts in the US begin their year in July, and he’s afraid that might happen in Maryland, which he says could jeopardize “the quality of interaction between family and their kids. … If we keep going in that direction, it will be July when we start school,” the Post quoted him as saying.
The paper’s editorial board even mentioned that starting in July wouldn’t be a bad idea, “considering the educational advantages to be gained from increased instruction time and the success some school districts have had with year-round schooling, particularly in helping at-risk students.” But still, they wouldn’t want community members dictating any sort of view or calendar.
“Maryland, which likes to trumpet its success in student achievement,” the editors concluded, “would be taking a step back if it allowed business interests, not children’s needs, to dictate school decisions. We urge Gov Martin O’Malley (D) to make short shrift of this ill-advised proposal.”
My own opinion is that a lot of good work and thoughtful advice went into the task force’s vote. But it’s rare to see agreement on the part of all 24 superintendents in the state, the state superintendent, and the largest teachers’ union, and all of them seem to be saying this is a bad idea.
It’s a long way from a task force report to legislation in Maryland, but like so many other initiatives, this one looks to die in committee or even before it’s introduced. Potential increases in revenue for businesses in two counties don’t mandate telling every local district how to set their calendars.
Despite the task force recommendation that schools start after Labor Day, we don’t think the economic benefit will be worth the price paid by students, which includes a reduced ability on the part of local school districts to respond to the needs of students, families, and businesses in their local communities. Our schools are ultimately charged with serving students, not local businesses, and kids’ needs have to come first.