February 6, 2019

Maryland Senators Seek to Return School Start Decision to Local Boards of Education

At a recent bill hearing in the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, Senate Standing Committee Chairs King (Budget and Taxation) and Pinsky (Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs) made the case to return school start and end date decisions to local authorities.

Senate Bills 128 and 131 would achieve that aim and return the authority to set school start and end dates to local boards of education. Local county and city school boards held this authority for over fifty years and the act to take it out of their hands, some 2 ½ years ago, was seen by many as an overt political act.

Many believe that local boards of education best understand the needs of their students and their communities and that the authority should have never been taken from them in the first place. “School policy should not be a political football,” said Chairman Pinsky. “This bill returns the authority to deciding the calendar and other instructional matters to the twenty-four (local) boards of education.”

Until 2 ½ years ago, twenty-four jurisdictions chose different start dates. Of these jurisdictions, only one (Worcester County), chose to start school after Labor Day. Now all jurisdictions are required to abide by the order and subsequently are forced to modify their calendars to dates that are not the most conducive to achieving required nationally accepted minimums for the number of school days in a year.

Existing state law mandates a minimum of 180 school days and requires a start after Labor Day and a conclusion date no later than June 15th.  Effectively this current law has now made the 180 minimum requirement a de-facto ceiling and capped the number of school days for Maryland school children.

Allowing for religious holidays, necessary teacher conference days, and weather-related closures has tightened the school calendar to a point that is nearly unmanageable to fit in the required nationally-accepted allotment of school days. “It has gotten very complicated for local school systems,” said Chairwoman King. She followed, “Each school system is very, very different from each other. They (local school boards) need to make these decisions for themselves.”

Maryland Association of Boards of Education Legislative Committee Chair and Anne Arundel County Board of Education President Julie Hummer stated succinctly: “Let local boards set local policy.” That seems to be exactly what Senators King and Pinsky intend to do with Senate Bills 128 and 131.

Senate Bills 128 and 131 were heard before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, January 30th. Senate Bill 128 was voted out of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, February 5th and now heads to the Senate Floor for the consideration of the full body. Senate Bill 131 is cross-filed in the Maryland House of Delegates with House Bill 53 (sponsored by Delegate Mark Chang). House Bill 53 is scheduled to be heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on February 14th.