A Longer Summer for Maryland

In 2016, Governor Hogan signed an Executive Order mandating that all Maryland public schools start after the Labor Day holiday as was the practice years ago.

This action came after a bi-partisan  task force gave a favorable report on this matter in 2014 and noted that there was no evidence this would have a negative impact on our students. Public opinion polls have consistently reflected more than 70% of Marylanders support a post-Labor Day school start and there was also a petition signed by Governors O’Malley, Governor Hogan and 25,000 Marylanders in support of the measure.  Senate Bill 128 would reverse the Governor’s Executive order and give scheduling power back to local jurisdictions. I actively supported this measure in 2016. While I am more sensitive to the unintended consequences 3 years later, I still support a post-Labor Day school start.

I support this bill first as a small business and tourism advocate. This was a rare opportunity to give a boost to businesses who have so many factors working against them. Besides a less than business friendly tax structure in our state, small business such as retail and hospitality are also working against forces  such as unpredictable weather patterns and the crushing proliferation of e-commerce. This was a win for small business who rarely gets a leg up in Annapolis.

It pains me that this issue pits education against the tourism industry since both are near and dear to my heart.  You can be pro-business and pro-education. Our tourism industry continues to fuel Maryland’s economy and is one of the few areas where an investment by state government gives a measurable economic return. The more than 2 billion in local and state revenues collected in tourism related taxes is critical to remaining competitive in our educational institutions. Especially if we are to implement the costly but necessary recommendations of the Kirwan Commission.  An economic impact study will be most valid after this has been in place for about 3 years, when behaviors and patterns have changed. I look forward to seeing those figures when they become available.

Local control seems to be the burning issue. That is understandable- they want to have control over their schedules. And local school boards do have control of the 180 days they are mandated to teach just not the start and end date of the school year (though a bill was passed last year to allow more flexibility with school end date)  Jurisdictions also have the flexibility to request a waiver for this mandate. I was disappointed to hear that some school jurisdictions are not recognizing religious holidays due to scheduling restraints. They should get a waiver in this case. There is surely a value in a standardized schedule across the state on multiple levels. We have kids in two school systems.  While it would be great for our blended family to be on the same schedule, I am sure there are numerous economic benefits of a state-wide school schedule.

The other two core issues cited by educators are learning loss, and hunger. Now these issues gives me pause for sure. Regarding learning loss,  it happens and there are people that point to year round school which is a wildly unpopular idea. In that case however, I point back at parents  to find alternative meaningful learning experiences for kids during the summer instead of the electronic devices that take over their imaginations.  When families do not have the means for camps, etc  ( and I know there are many) then I point to elected leaders and the business community to create ways to foster a continuum of learning during the summer THAT SUPPORTS CHILD CARE NEEDS and is affordable. Perhaps Title 1 communities should be able to offer summer camp which could address the hunger issues.  I have to believe that summer camps will eventually alter their schedules to meet needs of parents and the new school year once people are . This year, however, it was like summer camps  didn’t get the “longer summer memo” and left kids with 2 weeks of idle time. Again, this was year one and that should correct itself.

My sense is legislators will weigh the testimony of business and educators and come out even. It’s the parents that tip the scale on this issue…. as they should. In listening to the comments at the hearing yesterday, several legislators relate this to their own personal experience when they went to school or how this affects their own family. My experience as a parent is what I call the summer creep. Over the years, I have witnessed summer getting shorter and shorter. When August arrives the fun comes to a hard stop along with all the economic activity it creates and families focus on school preparation.  I personally find that a bad trend- its already too short! Oh, and none of this matters if you have a child in sports/activities because school activities are currently immune from this post-Labor Day mandate which is counterintuitive. Let’s include sports activities because otherwise every coach out there is trying to get a jump on the season and Junior will be riding the bench if he doesn’t make practice. If everyone starts at the same time, everyone has same competitive edge- right? And don’t get me started on the heat factor. My point is sports/activity schedules  contribute entirely to the summer creep. While I’m at it why is it that the school day and the work day don’t ever jive??   I was one of those single full-time working Moms that didn’t get the benefit of pre-k and have continued  to pull my hair out over the years juggling childcare.  What if 180 days was broken into hours? What if we went to school for longer days, had longer recess,  longer weekends AND longer summers? We can’t create more time but we can be creative with our use of time in the school system. The same goes for families- time is short and fleeting…how will you spend those precious months of summer?

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