OCEAN CITY — Squinting into the August sun at Ocean City's boardwalk Thursday, Comptroller Peter Franchot formally launched his petition drive to require Maryland schools to start after Labor Day.
Franchot wants to deliver 10,000 signatures under the banner "Let Summer Be Summer" to Maryland lawmakers in January, when he will kick off lobbying for a new law that would forbid school districts from beginning classes before September.
While the petition itself is symbolic, it continues the state comptroller's more than yearlong campaign to push back the first day of school. The state's top tax collector said it would draw more tourism dollars to Maryland and return to what he calls the "common sense" schedule of years past that signals the end of summer.
"Each year, the school year keeps getting closer and closer to July," Franchot said. "If we don't draw a line in the sand now, Maryland will be there."
In May, a state task force voted 11-4 to recommend barring school before Labor Day. And a year ago, Franchot released an economic impact study that concluded that starting school after Labor Day would generate $74.3 million a year in direct revenue for the state's economy and nearly $8 million in added tax revenue.
Most of the public resistance to the idea has come from state superintendents who say that school districts should be left in charge of setting their schedules.
Worcester County, home to Ocean City and much of the state's beach tourism, voted to begin school this year Sept. 2. Most Maryland districts begin Aug. 25, the week before Labor Day.
Franchot, flanked by business owners, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and Sen. Jim Mathias, said his coalition is prepared for a years-long debate in the legislature over the issue.
"It may take a couple years, but that's OK. We're in it for the long haul," Franchot said.
The 10,000 signatures represent less than a fraction of the more than 55,000 required to place an issue on the state ballot, but Franchot said the show of support would help sway lawmakers and the next governor, who will be elected to a four-year term in November.
Derek Hopkins, Harford County's register of wills, brought his daughter and a friend to Franchot's news conference to raise awareness about how August school days conflict with kids in 4H clubs taking their livestock to the Maryland State Fair.
"Our kids learn more at a fair for four days, marketing and taking care of their animals, than they do at school," Hopkins said.
Asked about the impact on lower-income families for whom an extra week of summer break would require an extra week of child care, Franchot said that it is among several issues the legislature will need to take into account as it works through the process. But he said that isn't a good reason to abandon the idea of starting school after Labor Day.
"Schools aren't set up to be social welfare organizations," Franchot said.