ANNAPOLIS – For some Maryland families, going away for Labor Day weekend can be difficult when their children’s schools start before the holiday.
But beginning with the 2016-2017 academic year, local school systems would not start until after Labor Day, if Senate Bill 767 passes.
“Children and students should be able to travel with families around this entire state … There are so many great opportunities for families to continue to enjoy,” said Sen. James Mathias Jr., D-Somerset, Wicomico and Worchester, who sponsored the bill. “The tourism industry would really like to see this happen.”
Visitor spending generated over $2 billion in taxes in 2015, according to the Maryland Office of Tourism.
“This is a statewide workforce issue,” said Melanie Pursel, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. “We generate tax revenue from our state, and the more we get, the more successful we are.”
While some families want to vacation around Labor Day, others don’t have the money to do so, leaving no reason to delay the start of school.
“We’re a very diverse state,” said Renee Spence, Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland Executive Director. Spence added that Maryland has almost 1 million children in its public schools, many of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches. “I’m not sure many families are taking vacations over Labor Day weekend.”
The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee heard testimony for this bill as well as several others related to school assessments; cellphones in schools; and a high school, college and internship hybrid. Here’s a roundup of other bills that were discussed:
Cell phone use in public schools
Using cell phones during class has been a constant concern for teachers trying to do their jobs, said Sen. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George’s.
Benson sponsored Senate bill 657, which would establish a task force to study the impact of cell phone use in public schools.
“They are a distraction to students and teachers alike,” Benson testified. “It is essential that people focus on the communication occurring inside the classroom.”
Committee Chair Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, said school officials from Prince George’s County said this could infringe on students’ rights.
“It kind of concerns me that the school board did not have enough respect for this senator to come down here and talk to me about it,” Benson said.
Press freedom for student journalists
MDDC Press Association President Rebecca Snyder said Senate bill 764, sponsored by Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, keeps students from gaining the skills needed to be journalists. The bill, also known as the New Voices Maryland Act, provides fewer opportunities for school administrators to censor student newspapers.
“High school journalists are the journalists of tomorrow,” Snyder said. “Students are taught not to question authority … (censorship) does not further the ability for (them) to learn how to be journalists.”
Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools
Senate bill 376, sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, would establish four P-TECH schools in Maryland. This schools would allow students to get a high school and associate’s degree in six years.
“It calls for partnerships between colleges and businesses,” said Jeanne Hitchcock, the special adviser to the vice president for local government, community and corporate affairs at Johns Hopkins University. “Putting our resources and effort behind a program like this would enhance our ability to pull from a skilled workforce.”
The committee heard testimony on Senate bill 407, sponsored by Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, which would make the State Board of Education limit mandated tests to 2 percent of required teaching hours, while teacher-selected tests and quizzes would not count toward the limit.
“These are kids who are 8, 9, 10 years old. Imagine being taught to take a test, day in and day out, year in and year out,” Manno said. “It’s a real, real hardship.”
A random sample of kindergarten students across the state would take a school readiness test, and tests for prekindergarten students would be prohibited by Senate bill 794, sponsored by Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford.
Local education boards would be required to increase transparency by providing the name, purpose, testing window and accommodations for tests, according to Senate bill 533. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, also requires the board to state who mandates each test and the grade and subject area it is for.
Senate bill 786, sponsored by Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, requires the Maryland State Department of Education to create a list of guidelines that they and local school systems must use when deciding whether to test students.