Bill on school start date prompts political battle

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks out against a measure that would enable local school boards to decide whether school starts before or after Labor Day during a news conference Thursday, Feb. 7 in Annapolis.

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The start date for Maryland’s public school year has sparked a high-profile battle between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democrats who control the General Assembly.

Hogan spoke out forcefully on Thursday against a measure to let local school districts decide whether schools start before or after Labor Day. The governor said he believes a majority of Maryland residents support his 2016 executive order requiring schools to start after Labor Day. He described the legislation as an effort by “out-of-touch” lawmakers to “subvert” the will of the people.

“Inexplicably, they are attempting to reverse this policy, but we simply cannot and we 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,” Hogan said at a news conference he called to address the issue.

But Democrats who support the bill say they can’t understand why there’s so much pushback on a bill that simply would let local school boards decide. Sen. Paul Pinsky, who is sponsoring the measure, questioned why people are afraid to give local officials a choice.

“Whatever they choose, they choose, whether it’s before Labor Day or after Labor Day,” Pinsky said. “We have to take the politics out of it. We give it back to our board members where there are Democrats, Independents, Republicans, whatever. They’re closer to the people to the community, let them decide.”

The governor contends the longer summer break gives families more time together and generates revenue for Maryland’s tourism industry. But opponents say it shortchanges education.

Hogan said his executive order is among the most popular actions he has taken as governor, along with his decision early in his first term to lower road tolls.

“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,” Hogan said.

If lawmakers pass the bill, the governor said he is confident voters will petition it to the ballot and block it from taking effect. Hogan said he will submit legislation to put his executive order into the law. He said it would call for requiring any local school system that attempts to start school before Labor Day to let voters decide the matter.

Senators debated the bill Thursday. A vote is expected early next week.

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