This Week’s Headlines
Franchot re-launches school start petition
By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
(Aug. 23, 2016) In the closing days of August, as most Maryland students returned to their classrooms, some without air conditioning, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot re-launched his “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign.
The effort is to return to a once-traditional opening day of each school year one or two days after the Labor Day weekend.
In the past two years, bills in the Maryland legislature backing Franchot’s effort have failed in committee, but Maryland’s money man is more confident this year.
In a recent visit to the offices of The Delmarva Farmer, he said, when asked to appraise the chances of legislative approval this year, that “I am cautiously optimistic.”
There seems to be, too, a general swelling of support from the public, perhaps in the wake of a summer of record-breaking temperatures, Franchot has re-launched his petition drive in which he hopes to get 10,000 signatures. He has exceeded that number in each of the past two tries.
Franchot’s director of communications Peter Hamm offered this comment last week:
"After three years of study, a huge citizen grassroots effort, an economic report saying it would have a large positive economic impact and a Governor's task force reporting favorably on Maryland counties starting school after Labor Day, school in many counties in our state is scheduled to start within the next week to ten days. This is why people think government doesn't listen... when you have a good idea, keep shouting it until government does listen."
In March of this year, in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, Franchot urged support of a bill that would prohibit public schools and publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs from opening before the day after Labor Day.
The comptroller testified that a study the previous year determined the economic impact to the state of starting school after Labor Day.
The report found the move could generate $74.3 million in direct economic activity, including $3.7 million in new wages and a separate $7.7 million in state and local revenue.
A state task force has voted to recommend a post-Labor Day start date for public schools, Franchot testified, and public opinion polls showed 72 percent support for the initiative.
All but one school system - Worcester County - starts before Labor Day in the current school year, with some beginning as early as mid-August.
Franchot’s initiative has the full support of the Maryland Farm Bureau. A MFB spokesperson issued this statement:
“We believe that Maryland public schools should begin after Labor Day to provide more time for students to participate in the Maryland State Fair, help out on the farm and finish summer jobs at local produce stands and farmers markets.”
Franchot maintains that “in addition to the increase of tens of millions in direct economic activity for Maryland, starting school after Labor Day will bolster small businesses that rely on seasonal workers, increase wages for young people and provide families with another week of quality time together.”
A spokesman for Franchot’s office noted that of the small businesses powered by seasonal workers are the agricultural and hospitality industries, often populated by college and senior high school students.
“Small business (in farming and hospitality) loses its summer task force at the top of their seasonal market,” the spokesman said.
A prime example is the Maryland State Fair, which begins this week as many students statewide also start their school year. As the general school start date crept earlier and earlier, state fair officials responded by squeezing most 4-H and FFA events into the fair’s two weekends but general attendance at the gate and the number of exhibitors in some of the livestock shows has fallen.
Perhaps complicating Franchot’s mission is the fact that Labor Day is not the same date every year; it ranges from Sept. 1 to Sept. 7 depending on the year. Those later dates might prove to be troublesome for local school boards, which must provide 180 days of instruction on the school calendar.
However, by moving opening day to after Labor Day, supporters say county school boards could reduce the “soft time” built into the calendar — snow days, teacher conferences, holiday breaks, and the like.