Why can’t summer be summer? (Editorial)

(March 15, 2016) Maryland Sen. Jim Mathias, R-Lower Shore, is afain trying to drum up support for a bill in the General Assembly, which would prohibit public schools and publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs from opening for pupil attendance before the day after Labor Day. It’s not an easy sell.
The measure, SB 767, is not without its backers but there have been, in past attempts to get similar bills even out of committee, few lawmakers willing to take the school calendar out of the hands of local school boards and the reigning teacher unions.
The official calendar for Maryland public schools for 2016-17 sets the opening day for classes as Aug. 29 and the school closing date as June 16, although counties have leeway in setting the respective school calendars.
To start the school year, students in Maryland public schools will go to classes for five days before breaking for the three-day Labor Day weekend. And will spend more than two weeks in their classrooms in June before breaking for the summer.
Among those supporting the Mathias bill is the Maryland Farm Bureau which notes that many farming operations offer summer jobs to Maryland youth. The month of August is prime season for vegetable and fruit growers, MFB argues, and “losing their help during this busy season makes it very difficult for farmers to harvest the crop and prepare it for consumer use.”
Last August, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot was on the Boardwalk in Ocean City to launch a petition drive seeking 10,000 signatures advocating a mandated post-Labor Day start to the public school year in Maryland as part of his “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign.
Franchot contended that, by extending their summer break until after Labor Day could mean more than $7.7 million in additional tax revenue and $74.3 million in new economic activity. At the opening of the 2015 legislative session in January, the campaign appeared to be gaining momentum as Franchot and its other major supporters, including Mathias, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, other elected officials, small business owners, educators and tourism officials, turned in the petition with more than 13,000 signatures. Gov. Larry Hogan also endorsed the issue.
However, by session’s end, the bills, after routine committee hearings, died a quiet death, without so much as a vote at the committee level.
Joining again in advocacy of the Mathias bill is the Maryland State Fair.
In years past, when it was unheard of to start school before Labor Day, the fair was able to schedule its 4-H livestock competitions through the 12 days of the fair, which runs through Labor Day.
The fair opens on Aug. 25. School opens this year on Aug. 29 or sooner. That leaves four days or fewer for the 4-H kids, who have worked all year long for those moments in the show ring to do their stuff.
When public school students were called back to school before the end of August, fair officials have had to cram the 4-H shows into its opening days.
“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who want to keep the schools closed until the day after Labor Day,” a spokesperson for the fair said.
Detractors of the Mathias bill advance concerns such as the proposal’s effect on planning for inclement weather, professional development time for teachers and the amount of instruction time available before standardized tests begin in March.
However, supporters of the bill cite the example of Virginia — where the so-called Kings Dominion law prohibits schools from starting before Labor Day without a state waiver — and studies have indicated no negative impact on school test scores.
We contend that school districts should look at their calendars and find opportunities to shave off a day here or there rather than extend later into June to compensate for the five days before Labor Day.
As Comptroller Franchot, says “Let Summer be Summer.”