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Maryland Gov. Hogan fights back against lawmakers over post-Labor Day school year start

Frustrated by Maryland lawmakers' attempts to undo his executive order to start the public school year after Labor Day, Gov. Larry Hogan said he'll submit a bill that would make school boards that want to start classes earlier seek the approval of voters.

Hogan, a Republican, called a news conference Thursday to blast what he called “out-of-touch politicians” in the Democratic-controlled legislature for their “misguided” effort to overturn his order.

“I can’t think of any other action that has as much widespread, enthusiastic support,” Hogan told reporters.

A Goucher College poll right after the 2016 order found 68 percent support for starting school after Labor Day; there has been no public polling since.

The order directed school officials to delay the start of classes until after Labor Day and to wrap up instruction by June 15. Schools across Maryland opened after Labor Day starting with the 2017-2018 academic year. Hogan has argued that a longer summer break gives families more time together and generates revenue for Maryland’s tourism industry.

But some school boards have struggled to develop calendars that meet the requirements while including holidays and training days for teachers. Some have shortened spring break from a week to just a couple of days.

Sen. Nancy King, a co-sponsor of the bill to return decision-making powers to school boards, said the Montgomery County school system, for example, needs to accommodate Muslim holidays.

“If you ask anybody if they want to start after Labor Day, of course they do,” said King, a Montgomery County Democrat, in an interview. “But if you say you might not have spring break next year … I think people look at it differently.”

Hogan said his proposed legislation — which is still being drafted — would offer “genuine local control” by requiring voters to approve any pre-Labor Day start.

Friday is the deadline for bills to be introduced to the General Assembly without facing extra procedural hurdles.

Hogan also said that if lawmakers do pass their bill, which would return control of school calendars to local school districts, there would be an effort to collect signatures to put his law on ballot statewide in 2020.

Hogan wouldn’t commit to vetoing the legislators’ bill, should it pass this session. He said a veto might not make sense “depending on what the vote is.” Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in the House of Delegates and the state Senate.

Hogan maintains that Democratic lawmakers have changed course on the issue. Lawmakers created a task force that voted 12-3 in 2014 to recommend starting classes after Labor Day.

Hogan’s comments came as the Senate began Thursday debating its bill to return calendar control to local school boards. The Senate took a preliminary vote, 32-14, in favor of the measure, and planned to continue debate Friday on the matter.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s Democrat who is the chief sponsor, said school systems across the state are facing hardships due to Hogan’s order. Some school officials are forced to plan only one snow day in their schedules, while others — in jurisdictions where many children receive free and reduced meals — say they’re concerned kids are going hungry, Pinsky said.

He stressed that school districts — which must hold classes for at least 180 days a year — could decide to keep the first day of school after Labor Day or have longer school years.

“We are not telling people when to start school,” Pinsky said. “We want to put it back in their hands.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Maryland’s schools have declined under Hogan’s leadership.

“Our school systems are failing,” Miller said. “African-Americans are two grades behind Caucasians in Baltimore City. School after Labor Day? People in Baltimore City, they’re not rushing to go Ocean City for Labor Day. … We’ve got to govern for the whole state. We’ve got to get back to education, education, education.”

But Republican Sen. Justin Ready of Carroll County argued that Hogan’s executive order resulted in “incredibly good” economic effects.

He said that those opposed to the later start to the school year aren’t necessarily parents, but school administrators who want to protect professional development days and employee conferences during the school year.

Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Baltimore County Republican, argued the later start is helpful for schools that lack air conditioning in Baltimore County and Baltimore City, where classes sometimes have to be closed due to hot weather.

“All we're going to do is go back to missed days in Baltimore County,” Salling said.

Hogan said legislators’ efforts would be unsuccessful.

“School after Labor Day will remain the law in this state, as nearly everyone has been pushing for for many, many years. Regardless of what action the legislature attempts to take, they will fail,” Hogan said. “Marylanders will have the deciding vote on this, one way or another.”

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