Gov. Larry Hogan's executive order that a post-Labor Day school start will now be the law of the land in Maryland was met with strong opposition even before the announcement was made on Wednesday afternoon in Ocean City. In fact, The Sun's editorial opposing the idea was published on Wednesday morning ("Labor Day Madness," Aug. 31).
In outlining their opposition, The Sun's editors paint a bleak picture for Maryland students as a result of the governor's order, complete with lowered academic standards and other dire consequences, while also casting Maryland's tourism community, and Ocean City in particular, as villains concerned only about their own financial prospects.
Of course a longer summer benefits businesses in Ocean City, but it also benefits the tourism industry at large, which in turn benefits the people of Maryland. Tourism isn't limited only to Ocean City. From the majestic mountains of Garrett County to the historic towns of Southern Maryland to the countless cultural and educational attractions right here in Baltimore, tourism drives economic growth in every corner of our great state. Tourism is the 10th largest private sector employer in the state, directly responsible for over 140,000 jobs and nearly $5 billion in wages. Often times, the industry provides those new to the workforce with entry level opportunities that can grow into long, lucrative, and extremely fulfilling careers. But the industry isn't just large hotels, attractions, and restaurants. It's also hundreds of small businesses, from gift shops to guide services. Visitors to our state spend over $15 billion each year, resulting in over $2 billion in state and local tax revenues. The truth is, if all the tax revenue generated by the tourism industry suddenly disappeared, every Maryland family would have to pay an additional $1,010 in taxes to make up the difference. According to the comptroller's office, a later school start will spur an additional $74.3 million of direct economic activity. That's good news, especially on the same day The Sun reported that the state's revenue collection is down $250 million from last year's estimates. Increased economic activity and the tax revenues that come along with it will help pay for state wide improvements in infrastructure, public safety and, yes, education, including expanded summer enrichment programs. These are important priorities for all Marylanders, including those of us in the tourism community.
A post-Labor Day school start is not an extreme idea. Those who fear for our students should note that Virginia instituted a similar law in 1986, and student test scores in that state have not declined as a result. Maryland has been considering this initiative at least since 2013. In May 2014, after nine months of careful study and consideration, a statewide task force appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley voted 11-4 in favor of a post-Labor Day school start. This non-partisan task force included teachers, administrators and parents in addition to legislators and small business owners. In fact, before leaving office, Governor O'Malley himself joined Comptroller Franchot, Governor-Elect Hogan, and nearly 25,000 other Marylanders in signing a petition supporting the initiative.
For those concerned about the authority of local school boards to formulate their own academic calendars, it's important to remember that this law still allows those local officials autonomy over scheduling, provided classes do not begin before Labor Day. The same 180 instructional days are still required, and there is a provision that allows districts to apply for a waiver if they can demonstrate extenuating circumstances.
Near the end of its editorial, The Sun singles out Ocean City as responsible for the governor's actions and irresponsibly suggests that opponents might direct their "ire" at the Eastern Shore town before unnecessarily referencing Ocean City's "crime, public brawls, underage drinking and floods," all of which have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand. Then there is the inexplicable implication that somehow, as a result of this mandate, Maryland's youth will suddenly be "looked upon first as dishwashers and pizza deliverers rather than future scientists or tech wizards," followed by the completely unfounded warning that our "bullying" governor might next decide to mandate the teaching of creationism in our classrooms or ban sex education.
As a lifelong Marylander, a product of Maryland public schools, and now a proud member of the tourism community, I know that we can continue to make education a top priority in our state while also supporting an industry that means so much to so many.
Chris Riehl is owner of Baltimore Rent-A-Tour and a member of the Maryland Tourism Coalition. His email is email@example.com.