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Maryland Gov. Hogan once again to push to require public schools to open after Labor Day

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday he will introduce legislation to, once again, try to mandate that public schools may not start their school years until after Labor Day ― despite the legislature’s repeal of such a mandate last year.

Speaking at a meeting of the Board of Public Works in Annapolis, Hogan said he would introduce the Universal School Start Act of 2020 to return the start of school to after Labor Day, arguing a later start date is what the majority of Marylanders want.

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“We’ve taken a lot of actions over the last five years but I can’t think of a single one that has more widespread, overwhelming and enthusiastic support all across the state than this one,” Hogan said.

The issue of when school systems should be allowed to start the year has been a source of conflict between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature, where his latest bill faces dubious prospects.

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“I appreciate the Governor’s passion and interest in this issue, but the General Assembly has already resolved this question," Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said in a statement. "I do not foresee the Legislature relitigating this debate, and trust each local school board to do what is in the best interest of Maryland’s schoolchildren.”

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly voted to undo Hogan’s 2016 executive order mandating the later start, and return the decision-making authority to local school boards, who have been clamoring to have that power reinstated. Some counties have voted to start the year prior to Labor Day, while others have decided to keep the later start date.

Hogan predicted last year an angry public would petition the later start date to the ballot, but no petition drive ever materialized.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat who is a member of the Board of Public Works, pushed back against Hogan Wednesday.

“What concerned a lot of us who argued with you at the time was the question of whether a governor ... through fiat ought to override elected school boards? I think not,” Kopp said.

“We have another 67 days to argue with the legislature about it,” Hogan responded.

Many districts said the restrictions originally imposed by Hogan — a post-Labor Day start and a June 15 finish — made it difficult for them to squeeze in religious holidays, teacher workdays and unexpected snow days. Some had to make last-minute trims to spring break to accommodate both the executive order and laws requiring 180 days of classes.

Supporters of the mandate see it as a way to boost tourism in Ocean City and keep some children out of classrooms without air conditioning during some of the year’s hottest days.

Hogan’s executive order picked up on an issue championed by State Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, and Ocean City politicians.

A Goucher College poll right after Hogan signed the order found 68 percent support for starting school after Labor Day. A poll last year from Gonzales Research & Media Services found 56 percent of respondents supported starting school after Labor Day, and 40 percent supported allowing local school districts to make the decision of when to start.

Franchot, the third member of the Board of Public Works, praised the governor. Franchot, who has announced his own run for governor in 2022, said current school calendars include too many random days off and half-days during which families have to scramble to find child care.

“The treasurer mentioned that it’s costly for working families to have an extra week or two weeks of child care during the summer,” Franchot said. “Seventy-five percent or 80 percent of Marylanders support starting school after Labor Day, and the major reason they give is the current school calendars don’t make any sense to them.”

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