Tourism Should Not Drive Education
By Patricia O’Neill
Board of Education President
For many years, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has been leading an effort to have the state’s public schools begin after Labor Day. He has now garnered the support of Governor-elect Larry Hogan, and a state senator—the former mayor of Ocean City—has announced he will introduce a bill this legislative session.
Mr. Franchot is a very strong supporter of public schools and has certainly been instrumental in securing state funding for school construction projects (although we could use a little extra help). But on this issue we are in strong disagreement.
Setting the school calendar has always been the purview of local districts and it is our opinion that it should remain that way. This is the stance we have taken in the past and we recently sent a letter to our legislative delegation asking them to oppose any bill that would mandate a particular start date for public schools. Several state organizations, including the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, are taking a similar stance.
Let’s be clear: The Comptroller’s efforts are not about education and are not about helping children. It is entirely about boosting the state’s tourism industry. While my Board colleagues and I certainly support tourism in our state, it should not drive educational decisions.
As this issue is debated, I want to make sure our community is aware of some important facts.
First of all, mandating a later start date will not make the summer longer: All it would do is shift the beginning—and the end—of the school year later. Consider the impact this would have next school year, when Labor Day is on September 7. If school started the day after Labor Day, on September 8, 2015, the last day of school would be June 24, 2016. If we had a lot of snow days, like we did last year, the contingency calendar could push the final day of school into July.
Secondly, this action could put our students at a disadvantage on national assessments. We do not set the dates for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests—they are set by the organizations that administer the programs. Therefore, our students would have at least one week less to prepare for these important assessments. Remember, even though we start before Labor Day, many other districts around the nation start even earlier than we do.
Most importantly, our community decides when they want school to start. Long ago, MCPS used to start after Labor Day, but we changed that practice so our students could start the year with a full week of school. We set our school calendar in collaboration with our community, including our staff, parents, and students. And that’s how it should be—Montgomery County citizens, not the state, setting the calendar for Montgomery County schools.
If there are districts in Maryland that would like to start school after Labor Day, there is nothing stopping them from doing so. But the state shouldn’t force everyone to follow the same calendar. If you agree, please contact your state legislators and let them know how you feel.