POLITICS

Maryland Governor Pits Tourism Against Teachers With New School Start Date

Critics say Maryland's shorter school year is bad for students, but the state's GOP governor says they're living in a "fantasy world."

Here’s how to reach these kids: Give them more summer vacation.

On Wednesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared via executive order that beginning in September 2017, the Maryland school year won’t start until after Labor Day ― a decision that prompted sharp criticism from school leaders, who are accusing Hogan of favoring the tourism industry over education.

The order exacerbates an ongoing battle between education leaders and Democrats in the state legislature ― who called the order “extraordinary and legally questionable” ― versus the governor and the tourism industry. The education side says students and parents will pay the price for an extended summer, while Hogan’s camp argues that families will have more time together and local economies will thrive.

“The Maryland teachers union is living in a complete fantasy world and has been for quite some time.” Gov. Larry Hogan's Office

It’s a landmark decision in a state whose school boards had previously been able to write up their own calendars.

Sean Johnson, a lobbyist for the state teachers union, blasted the governor for forcing schools and parents to deal with an ever-shrinking window for education. The new mandate requires that the school year end by June 15, but school boards still have to cram 180 school days into the calendar year.

“Forcing all schools to begin after Labor Day won’t help students do better ― and research shows that it can worsen summer brain drain among students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds,” Johnson said. “Cutting back the school year and extending summer is not a solution to any education problem ― it’s just another Gov. Hogan school cut.”

The state Education Association has repeatedly criticized Hogan for saving, rather than spending, nearly $100 million that the state legislature allocated for various school programs over the past two years. Hogan, meanwhile, allowed $5 million to be spent on a private school scholarship program, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The governor’s camp, which notes that there have been increases in education aid across every jurisdiction in the state since Hogan took office, did not mince words in its response to the teachers union.

“The Maryland teachers union is living in a complete fantasy world and has been for quite some time,” spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver Churchill told The Huffington Post. “While they are loath to admit it, they are very well aware of the fact that every single one of Governor Hogan’s budgets has provided record funding for K-12 education. Why they continue to deny this easily provable fact is incomprehensible.”

The governor has, in fact, been hailed for historic increases in public school funding over the years, and has repeatedly accused the unions of waging a misinformation campaign against him. But lawmakers have said that Hogan’s increases are the minimum required by state law and are due solely to rises in enrollment and other factors.

Wednesday’s order is unlikely to end the war. Some school districts say they may have to shorten spring break and eliminate time off for religious holidays. Concerns have also been raised about what a shorter school year will mean for low-income students who rely on public schools for subsidized meals.

For their part, defenders of the shorter school year point out that Maryland’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates say the move could generate up to $74.3 million in direct economic activity for the state.

Parents, meanwhile, appear to support the decision. Earlier independent polls found that more than 70 percent of Maryland residents wanted the first day of school to come after Labor Day.

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