Peter Franchot’s Dishonest Crusade

Comptroller Peter Franchot has been on a rather quixotic crusade in recent months. He is hellbent on requiring that schools in Maryland not open until after Labor Day. The idea isn’t new. Franchot talked about it last year, and the General Assembly created a task force to study the issue before that. A report issued by the Task Force recommended that yes, schools should not start until after Labor Day. In a letter presenting the report to the Governor and legislative leaders, State School Superintendent Lillian Lowery highlighted the supposed economic benefits to moving the start of schools, alleging that the state would see over $74 million in new economic activity if the date were pushed back until after Labor Day.

Except, like most things Maryland Democrats argue, their arguments are built upon a house of cards.

The report lists the following among its data findings:

On August 14, 2013, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and the Bureau of Revenue Estimates released its study titled, “Economic Impact of a Post-Labor Day Start Date for Maryland Public Schools.” This study highlights the benefits to Maryland’s economy and families if schools were required to start after Labor Day. It reports that 8.5% of the 514,680 Maryland families with school aged children would take either a new day trip or overnight trip in Maryland, another 5.2% would take a new out-of-state trip, and the remaining families would devote a least one additional day to family recreational activities if Maryland public schools started after Labor Day. Most importantly, it reports that Maryland would actualize $74.3 million in direct economic activity as a result of the increased tourism. 

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That statement was based off of the data in this report. Of course, there is little to no evidence supporting the conclusions that were made in the Comptroller’s report, but it appears that the estimates were predicated on the idea that summer vacation would be extended, for all practical purposes, by a week. In Anne Arundel County, for example, students report to school on Monday, August 25th. In Franchot’s world, they would report on Tuesday, September 2nd.

But Franchot’s idea is predicated on the idea that there a no consequences for delaying the start of school by one week when, in fact, there are. Currently Anne Arundel County students are scheduled to have their last day of school on June 15th (not accounting for snow days). If Franchot’s plan were in place, the students would be released one week later, on June 22nd.

What Franchot fails to account for (and fails to tell anybody) is the fact that by law Maryland students are required to be in school for 180 days during each academic year. Changing the start of the school year won’t change that fact, and to make up for the one week delay in the start of the school year students will necessarily be in school one week later than they currently are. That’s not extending summer vacation, as Franchot would like you to believe. It’s merely shifting one week of vacation from the middle of June to the last week in August, with an adjustment in consumer behavior and travel likely to follow. And even that assumes that schools aren’t forced to make up days. The date in 2013-14 under the Franchot plan would have been June 26th for Anne Arundel County students, and that’s after a three-day weather related waiver from Lowery.

Instead of having students go to school in August, looks like Franchot may have them going in July.

The net impact of Franchot’s plan will be the extension of summer vacation by exactly zero days and a negligible change in the amount of tourism revenue.

Franchot has extended his crusade to an online petition drive trying to gather 10,000 signatures in support of moving the first day of school until after Labor Day. It’s a quixotic crusade, to be sure, and the idea of shifting the start date is one that I don’t necessarily oppose, even if our neighbors in Virginia are trying to scrap the so-called “Kings Dominon Law” that requires post-Labor Day starts in Virginia. But the Comptroller’s dishonesty in his motivations, his avoidance of facts, and his make-believe economic impact statement are pure fantasy and beneath both the dignity of his office and an insult to the intelligence of Maryland’s taxpayers and parents of school-aged children.

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