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Hogan, Franchot to make 'major announcement' on school starting date

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Powerful advocates for starting school after Labor Day have a "major announcement" coming.

The state's two most powerful and prominent advocates for pushing the first day of school to after Labor Day have scheduled a joint "major announcement" for Wednesday about the start date for Maryland's public schools.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot will be in Ocean City that afternoon, the beachside town where both have publicly campaigned to delay school until after the traditional end of summer.

Through spokesmen, Hogan and Franchot declined to elaborate on the announcement. The two have teamed up in the past, using their bully pulpit on the Board of Public Works to expedite the installation of air conditioning in public schools by withholding money from Baltimore County and city schools.

Hogan has the authority to issue executive orders and push legislation in the General Assembly.

On Monday, Franchot released a YouTube video of himself and Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan working the town's boardwalk, telling tourists about the wisdom of giving the waning days of summer back to children and their families.

"We can't find anybody who's opposed to starting school after Labor Day. Everybody wants it. And why not? It's a common-sense idea," Franchot said in a video titled "Let summer be summer."

For years, Democratic lawmakers from resort areas have tried unsuccessfully to persuade the General Assembly to mandate that school begin after the holiday.

Local school systems oppose the idea, preferring to retain control over their own schedules. The bill has been killed repeatedly in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, chaired by state Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore.

"If it was that popular, I think we wouldn't only have two jurisdictions to start school after Labor Day," said Conway, a Democrat. "They have the authority, right now, to determine whether they think it's in the best interest of their communities to start school after Labor Day. Obviously, that is not what they want to do."

Worcester County, home to Ocean City, and Queen Anne's County have scheduled school to start after Labor Day.

Decades ago, most school districts began school after the holiday. The trend toward pushing the first day of school earlier into August picked up momentum in the late 1990s, as schools grappled with how to manage a state-mandated 180-day school year.

Jurisdictions that begin school after Labor Day continue until mid-June.

Franchot has campaigned since 2014 to push back the start day of local school systems, some of which begin the year in mid-August. Hogan has supported Franchot's idea since he campaigned for governor in 2014.

A task force created by the General Assembly recommended in 2014 a post-Labor Day start date for public schools, even though each of the state's 24 local school boards opposed such a move. The task force also predicted increased revenue from tourism, a conclusion questioned by legislative analysts who doubted the extra time would prompt additional — and not just rescheduled — family vacations.

State Sen. Jim Mathias, an Ocean City Democrat, the perennial sponsor of the bill in the legislature, said he's made progress in persuading his colleagues to mandate a later start date.

"Clearly, it's sensible," Mathias said. "When I look at it, it's the final time that families have to spend together. … While kids are out and about with their families, they're on iPads and iPhones. They can continue to learn just as well sitting on the beach, or up in the mountains, or riding in a car somewhere as they can in a bricks-and-mortar school."

While he plans to attend Wednesday's event, neither he nor other elected officials invited to attend knew the announcement's details.

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie and research librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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