By Barry Rascovar
He’s at it again! Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. issued another executive order that makes it even clearer he intends to usurp the powers of the Maryland State Board of Education and every local school system in the state.
So far, no one is challenging Hogan’s decree setting the start of the school year statewide after Labor Day and the last school day no later than June 15. Nor is any school system threatening to defy his order, which screams “overreach.”
There is no valid education reason for Hogan’s action.
The two orders are designed to bring cheers from Ocean City businesses and parents happy to take their kids to the beach in late August instead of getting them ready for an early return to classes.
Yet even Hogan’s own appointees to the state board are complaining the governor wants to neuter the board and that his order is not grounded in any education rationale.
Larry Hogan is, indeed, the “Maryland is Open for Business” governor. Perhaps his next slogan will be: “In Maryland, Business Comes First, Education Second.”
Perplexed school leaders
Local school boards are in a quandary. Following Hogan’s directive means a loss of control over the school year. It could be just the first step in more gubernatorial dictates on which holidays to honor, what to teach in classes and what to forbid in local schools.
For instance, Hogan has repeatedly lashed out at teacher unions and accused them of calling the shots on education policy. Will he use future executive orders to crack down on them and strip from the school calendar the “professional training days” now built into the school schedule as days off for kids?
Will he dictate what he will allow the supposedly independent state school board to do on its own and what he intends to unilaterally mandate from his second-floor State House office?
Hogan has never been regarded as an education expert. His pronouncements on the subject have been few and far beyond –usually encapsulated in a brief one- or two-sentence quip.
He hasn’t even claimed his school-year decree is designed to improve the learning environment. For him, the executive order is all about boosting summer business sales and winning popularity for extending the summer season. Those are his priorities.
The problem for local school systems is that Hogan can be vindictive if challenged. He might withhold millions in school construction funds for petty reasons. After all, he’s already done it to Baltimore County and Baltimore City.
He could hold back other education dollars from systems that refuse to knuckle under and instead honor their commitment to crafting a school calendar that furthers students’ ability to learn.
There are other flaws in the decrees. What if there’s a harsh winter that forces many more lost school days than anticipated? Or other emergency closures? Even stripping spring break to the bone might not be enough to avoid post-June 15 schooling. What happens then?
Hogan hasn’t said and he’s taken the power away from the state school board.
If a school system ignores Hogan because it feels the executive orders are unlawful intrusions on local education autonomy, what happens?
Does Hogan direct more executive orders at the wayward school system? Does he call out the National Guard to enforce his orders? Does he pull a Trump-like tantrum and say to the few school board members he gets to appoint in six counties, “You’re fired”?
Meanwhile, the governor’s school-calendar mandate will hurt students’ ability to prepare for standardized tests whose dates cannot be changed. Kids lose ground in their learning when the long summer break is extended. Research has clearly established that fact. But Hogan doesn’t seem to care.
It is unfortunate Attorney General Brian Frosh took a dive when asked to examine the legality of Hogan’s attempt to extend his power. Frosh’s agency issued an opinion that failed to give clear guidance, even though it concluded: “. . . it is likely that a reviewing court, if presented with the issue, would conclude” Hogan exceeded his authority.
What Hogan has done is unprecedented. It could set a dangerous precedent.
Even if the orders are not challenged in court, there’s a strong chance the General Assembly will pass legislation sharply restricting and defining the limits of the governor’s power to issue executive orders, especially on matters pertaining to education. Lawmakers also are likely to pass such a law early in next year’s session so they can override an almost certain Hogan veto before adjournment.
Hogan’s handlers relish the chance to blame Democratic legislators for denying families a longer August vacation with their kids.
But it won’t be lawmakers reestablishing a longer school year that starts prior to Labor Day. Instead, they will simply return decision-making power to local school boards and the state education board – where it belongs.
Hogan may be looking for a way to win political points in this ludicrous dispute, but in the end all he’s doing is hurting Maryland school children’s ability to learn.