In the debate over when school should start in the fall — before or after Labor Day weekend — those who favor the latter now have a powerful ally, Gov.-elect Larry Hogan. Hogan has joined Comptroller Peter Franchot, long a proponent of a later school start, in calling for a post-Labor Day opening.
At present, local school boards have the authority to set their calendars and the school opening day varies around the state. However, in all but one district — Worcester County — that first bell rings prior to summer's final holiday weekend.
This never made sense to us. In some districts it sets up awkward schedules where youngsters return in mid-week prior to the long holiday weekend, attend school for three days, then take three days off, then return on a Tuesday. A post-Labor Day launch would be a more clear-cut beginning.
Furthermore, the pre-Labor Day beginning truncates the summer vacation season by effectively lopping off the last week. This has an economic impact on Maryland. The Bureau of Revenue Estimates estimates that starting school after Labor Day would boost economic activity by $73.4 million and contribute $7.7 million in revenue to the state and localities as Marylanders spent that final week at the beach, the lake, the mountains or even the Maryland State Fair.
School administrators generally want to keep the early start. All 24 superintendents in the state, along with school boards and state Superintendent Lillian Lowery, oppose a later beginning. The early start is a better fit with the testing schedule, they say, and a later start would push the last day of school further into the heat of June.
Franchot has countered that the calendar is flexible because of "soft days" on the schedule. We think he's right.
Hogan has now followed Franchot in signing a petition calling for Maryland schools to open their doors on the Tuesday after Labor Day. That petition has more than 13,000 names. Meanwhile, state Sen. James Mathias Jr., Democrat and former mayor of Ocean City, said he will draft legislation requiring the later start.
While we generally support local autonomy for school boards, we think they should be overruled on this issue. We see a lot of upside for Marylanders with kids in school and for a boost to the state's economy, and little in the way of downside for school administrators who would have to adjust their calendars.