ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate voted along party lines Thursday to grant preliminary approval for public school systems in all 24 jurisdictions to decide when to start and end the school year.
The nucleus of the legislation focuses on an executive order made in 2016 by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan that forced school districts to start school after Labor Day. Some Democrats, school officials and advocates criticized Hogan for assisting Worcester County along Ocean City, which during that time served as the jurisdiction in the state to start school after Labor Day.
“It is a choice matter and that’s the only thing we are talking about here,” said Sen. Ronald Young, a Democrat who represents Frederick County. “Let the jurisdiction decides what is best for them.”
After the 32-14 vote, Republican senators requested five amendments. The first four failed and the fifth will be discussed Friday. Sen. Andrew Serafini, a Republican from Washington County, was absent.
During the amendment reviews, Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-District 24) of Landover accused her GOP colleagues of wasting time.
“The conversation should end,” she said. “If these people who are getting up talking want to have schools opening after Labor Day, do it. But let’s not continue with this foolishness here today.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. did support a proposal more than six years ago for schools to begin after Labor Day, but he said Thursday times have changed, especially for those in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County who’ve urged schools open prior to Labor Day.
“I just think we need to get back focused on education, education, education,” said Miller, adding that he owns a house in Ocean City. “I loved school after Labor Day … [but] times change, circumstances change.”
According to the legislation, students must receive 180 days of instruction.
Miller said a final vote on the current legislation will take place Tuesday. The House will also need to approve the measure and signed by Hogan.
Hogan apparently has no interest in what the Democrat-controlled legislature will do because he threatened to place the matter on a referendum.
He explained at a press conference Thursday before the Senate vote that former Gov. Martin O’Malley organized a task force in 2013 to study the effect of public schools starting after Labor Day.
After Hogan was elected the following year, he said he waited for lawmakers to pass legislation. Once they didn’t, he imposed the executive order that went into effect for the 2017-18 school year. The order also required districts to end the school year by June 15.
“We’ve taken a lot of actions over the past four years, but I can’t think of any other action that has as much widespread, enthusiastic support all across the state as this one does,” he said. “We simply cannot and will not allow misguided and misinformed legislators and special interest groups to turn back the clock and ignore the will of the people of Maryland.”
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-District 22) of University Park, sponsor of the legislation, pointed out how some school systems decreased the length of spring break vacations and affected teacher planning days.
“I can’t control what [Hogan] does. I think it’s conceived,” Pinsky told reporters after the Senate adjourned. “He should let the people decide what they’ve done for 50 years prior to his executive order. Why not let every county decide? That’s the ultimate referendum.”