The movement to require Maryland public schools to wait until after Labor Day to start classes picked up steam Thursday when it gained support from Gov.-elect Larry Hogan.
Hogan joined Comptroller Peter Franchot, the state's No. 1 cheerleader for a later school start, at a news conference to add his name to a petition to start school on the Tuesday after the holiday.
"I think this is a tremendous effort for a lot of reasons," Hogan said. "It's not just a family issue, it's an economic issue."
The idea is a tough sell with school officials. All 24 superintendents across the state, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, teachers unions and state Superintendent Lillian Lowery have opposed it in the past.
Proponents say a later start would give families an additional week of summer to spend at the beach or Deep Creek Lake, attend the Maryland State Fair or simply spend money at Maryland businesses — and produce additional tax revenue. The Bureau of Revenue Estimates projects a post-Labor Day start would boost economic activity by $74.3 million and contribute $7.7 million in revenue to state and local coffers.
Hogan became the 13,244th signer of the petition. He joins Gov. Martin O'Malley, who added his name at a Board of Public Works meeting last year.
State Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. said he would draft legislation to require the later start. The Eastern Shore Democrat, a former mayor of Ocean City, said the bill will include recommendations of a task force set up by the legislature to study the issue. The panel voted 12-3 to recommend the change to the governor.
Mathias said the General Assembly could set the start day and let school systems work out how to adjust schedules.
Opponents say a later state date would push the school year into late June.
Educators say they need time to allow training days for teachers and to prepare students for state tests that are given in March and June. Not all schools are air-conditioned, and some worry students would spend more days in hot schools.
"We have some concerns about the impact it would have, not just on the school year but with instructional time with regard to regional and national assessments like Advanced Placement. Those testing windows are set," said Bob Mosier, Anne Arundel County public schools spokesman.
School boards now have the authority to set their own calendars — and they often differ in their start and end dates. This year, only Worcester County — home to Ocean City — started after Labor Day. As recently as 2000, though, Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford, Montgomery and Worcester counties opened after the holiday.
Lowery has said school systems should control their schedules.
"She has supported local superintendents and the idea that they can make that decision," said John White, the superintendent's spokesman.
Franchot, who has made the schedule shift a signature issue, acknowledged the superintendents' opposition. But he said rank-and-file teachers he talks with support the move.
"The bureaucracy is going to oppose it," said Franchot. He said there are enough "soft days" in the current school schedule to permit the change.
"This is a very minor adjustment," he said, "and after that they have complete discretion."
Leslie Beveridge is one classrooom teacher who would welcome the change.
A nine-year veteran who teaches at Easton Elementary School, Beveridge said teachers would still have to work some days before Labor Day to prepare for the kids' return. But instead of coming back in mid-August, teachers could come back at the end of the month, she said.
Beveridge said Franchot is correct about "soft" days in the schedule.
"From my experience, there are a few days throughout the year when I feel we could have more instruction for our kids," she said.
Del. Anne Kaiser, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means subcommittee on education, said she's inclined to come down on the side of the autonomy of school districts, but would keep an open mind.
"I'm willing to listen, willing to hear the arguments on all sides of the issues," she said.
Kaiser said Hogan's support could influence some House members, particularly Republicans. But in the past, she noted, GOP delegates have been defenders of local prerogatives.
With many new members who weren't there for discussion of the task force bill, Kaiser said, it is impossible to gauge the sentiment on the committee.
Baltimore Sun reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.