ANNAPOLIS (February 12, 2019)—After several days of debate, a Senate bill to effectively rescind Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's executive order starting Maryland public schools after Labor Day passed 31-13 on Tuesday, with Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no.
The governor said last week he planned to introduce a competing bill that says that any local school system that aims to start school before Labor Day will be required to put that decision on the ballot, giving "genuine local control" over the issue.
Hogan said his plan to introduce legislation came after special interest groups painted his initiative as a "crazy idea of the governor" to force schools to change, all while he was following recommendations set forth under a Democratic administration.
The executive order mandated the school year start after Labor Day, last 180 days and end by June 15, with five days additional discretionary days for emergencies or weather-related closures.
Taking effect in the 2017-2018 school year, the move had support from over 70 percent of Maryland residents, Hogan said Thursday morning in a press conference.
Local school systems could set their own academic calendars, provided they follow Hogan's start and end dates and length of school year set in the order.
The move to start schools after Labor Day started in 2013 under former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, D, when a task force to study a post-Labor Day start date was established.
Since then, five bills supporting school after Labor Day have been introduced, with bipartisan support from nearly 60 sponsors. Of those, 29 still serve in the General Assembly, according to a press release from the governor's office.
Hogan pointed to the task force recommendation, as well as independent polls from Goucher College taken in 2014 and 2015 indicating about 70 percent of Marylanders supported the later school-start initiative.
Prior to Hogan's order, school districts had the choice to start school when they wanted, according to Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's.
However, when they had the choice, out of the 24 jurisdictions, 23 chose to start before Labor Day, said Pinsky, a lead sponsor of Senate Bill 128, which fights back against Hogan's order in this year's legislative session.
His bill requires that each local board of education set the start and end dates for the school year for public schools, along with repealing the provision that authorizes a five-day extension after June 15 without approval from the State Board of Education.
"We are not telling people when to start school, we want to put it back in their hands," Pinsky said on his bill's goals during a debate on the state Senate floor later Thursday morning.
However, Hogan argues that the Democrats' legislation "masquerades under the guise of more local control, which would do the opposite of what local citizens want and instead empower a handful of unaccountable bureaucrats and administrators," he said in the press conference last week.
Pinsky also argued that Hogan's order constrains religious holidays, spring breaks, staff trainings and eliminates counties' flexibility to address local concerns such as severe weather.
Making decisions on school calendars is tough work, and the best decisions for scheduling can be made by the teachers, parents, students and support staff, said Steven Hershkowitz, press secretary for the Maryland State Education Association, which supports Pinsky's bill.
If approved in the House, the bill will take effect on July 1.
Hogan can veto the bill but the Democrats in the legislature hold a veto-proof three-fifths majority and can override it.
Hogan can also organize constituents to overturn the Democrats' legislation through a popular referendum, which requires a petition with signatures and support from 3 percent of registered voters in the state, calculated based on the number of votes cast for governor in the most recent election.
Hogan last week said there's a 100 percent chance that voters will gather the signatures they need to put a referendum on the ballot, with a majority of the voters in favor of mandating a later start.
Hogan released a statement on his Facebook page Tuesday, criticizing senators who voted to repeal his executive order after previously endorsing post-Labor Day school starts.
"If that isn't blatant, partisan hypocrisy, then I don't know what is," he wrote in a post on Facebook.
Hogan's competing bill will be introduced in the coming days, according to spokeswoman Shareese Churchill. It is unlikely to pass in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
"Regardless of the actions they take, legislators will fail," Hogan said.
"This won't be the end of it," Minority Whip Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil and Caroline, said after the bill passed in the Senate Tuesday. "The governor and the comptroller might team up again and go to referendum, and maybe we can get the people to vote on this issue to determine what's most important for the state of Maryland."
Comptroller Peter Franchot, D, cited increased tax revenue in his support for the governor's later school start.