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August is the New September

Recently Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot proposed, for the second time, that Maryland pass a law mandating that all public school systems in the state start school after Labor Day.

With so many real education issues facing our state, including increased standardized testing, decreasing budgets, and counties swamped with a deluge of new students, this proposal at best is a frivolous tourism issue, but at worst can actually cause harm. I’ll start with the harm.

Earlier starting dates front-load instruction in August to best prepare students for state assessment tests in the spring, while inclement weather causes students and teachers to lose many days of instruction in the winter. High school students need more time at the beginning of the year to prepare for AP and other exams. These schedules are one of many reasons it is imperative to leave school calendar decisions to local jurisdictions. This proposed law in Maryland would cede control to the state of Maryland over local school calendars.

Virginia passed this law in 1986, and it became known as the "Kings Dominion" law. It required public school systems in Virginia to begin school after Labor Day. It also did not address actual education issues, but was done to keep school-aged employees at Virginia's tourist attractions able to work through Labor Day weekend. Many Virginia legislators now want to repeal it. They have realized the unforeseen negative educational impacts.

On the surface, this may seem like a feel-good fun option, but when you look at the details, there are real problems regarding test preparation and local jurisdictional issues. We need to let our local educators take all the necessary factors into consideration and set the calendar. The County cannot control when national or state testing takes place, so they need flexibility.

Also, when schools start before Labor Day it doesn’t shorten the summer holidays, but shifts it backward several weeks, limiting any negative economic impact. Other states in the Southeast — even tourism-heavy Florida — do not have laws mandating that public schools delay starting until after Labor Day. Perhaps they realize educational effects are more important.

The bill that came before the Maryland state legislature last session (and would likely not change for the next session), allows only for a mandated start date of after Labor Day and still requires a 180 day school year. By this measure, there is no way for school systems to avoid extending their school years to the end of June, which would negatively affect an entire month's worth of summer tourism on the front end. Thus, if the goal of this law is to increase the duration of summer tourism, that is impossible given that if school must start later it must end later. It cannot be shortened on both ends. At least currently, Maryland school districts have the control to start school when they determine is best to maximize student achievement and not to comply with a law whose purpose has nothing to do with furthering public education in Maryland.

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