Md. tourism versus students, you decide

Maryland senator: Scrap the after Labor Day school start effort.

It seems that Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and his supporters from Ocean City and Deep Creek Lake's tourism industry are continuing on their crusade to restrict all 24 of the state's school systems from setting their own individual school calendars and starting before the Labor Day weekend.

The state and the state's schools, their reasoning goes, need to help these tourist destinations by extending the summer, fostering more and longer vacations and providing a youthful workforce for another week. Just last month, one hospitality industry spokesman and supporter of the effort said that schools "need to take one for the team."

It seems that their "team" doesn't include the word student in the logo. But it does beg the question: "what criteria should Baltimore City and the 23 county school systems use to develop their school calendar? Should it be based on the instructional needs of their students and interests of their respective communities or simply helping the bottom line of the tourism industry? Why shouldn't it "take one for the team"?

Some of the supporters of the comptroller's misguided campaign suggest making up the lost days at the end of the school year. Add in a few snow days and holidays and the school year suddenly extends to the Fourth of July weekend and that would surely be a no-no for our tourism friends. The comptroller, himself, says, "We can still end schools at the same time." Unfortunately, he doesn't explain what would have to go considering that there is a state-mandated minimum school year. Christmas break? Professional development for teachers? Religious holidays? They would virtually close off debate about extending the instructional time and, objectively, make the 180-day minimum state requirement a ceiling and not a floor.

The comptroller and his supporters cite a poll that says over 70 percent of Marylanders support starting school after Labor Day. If that were true, why aren't these people storming the barricades to lobby every local Board of Education to make the change? And the poll question they cite which provides the mandate for their efforts? Simply asked, "Do you support starting school after labor Day?" No explanation of tradeoffs, like extending the school year later into June, removing existing holiday breaks or, more importantly, shortening the school year. "Do you like mom and apple pie?" is every bit as worthy a question.

This campaign by one of Maryland's most powerful state officials flies in the face of growing efforts to raise college and career readiness standards and infuse schools with more rigor. It flies in the face of efforts to reduce the amount of remediation students now face after high school graduation and before taking credit-bearing courses in college. And it flies in the face of the business community's concerns of job readiness and young people having the necessary skills to compete in today's work world. To address these concerns — besides addressing higher and more challenging standards — people are suggesting lengthening the school day or school year. Should Maryland and its 24 school systems put students first or the profit margin of the tourism sector?

To most parents, educators, communities-at-large and business leaders who take the long view, the answer is clear. That's why when left to their choice, 23 of 24 systems have not selected a "no school before Labor Day" approach. Just one system has responded to the advocate's clarion call.

It's not only high time, but past time that this effort to mandate a statewide policy to shackle local school systems be relegated to the junk-heap of history.

Paul G. Pinsky is a Prince George's County senator and chair of the Maryland State Senate Education Subcommittee. He has worked in the field of education for over 40 years. His email is Paul.Pinsky@senate.state.md.us.

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