Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, however, is not buying any such arguments. On August 31, the first-term Republican unilaterally ruled that, henceforth, no school district in the state would be allowed to start until after Labor Day. (Any district looking to deviate must annually petition for a waiver based on, as the press release on Hogan’s order put it, “compelling justification.”) Why? Multiple reasons, the governor explained. First, to protect “the traditional end of summer,” by providing hardworking families extra time to frolic in the sun. (Along with delaying the start date, Hogan mandated that the school year must still end by June 15.) Second, to prevent kids from having to attend classes during the swelter of late August, which, Hogan insisted, is a particular burden on the Baltimore area schools without AC systems. And finally, to provide “an economic boost” to the state, especially the beachside communities along Maryland’s Eastern Shore—which, as it happens, was where Hogan held the press conference announcing his executive order.
Ah, tourism dollars. Now it all becomes clear.
It’s not hard to see why Hogan would want to push through such a change. On a basic level, the idea is broadly popular in the state. I mean, all things being equal, who doesn’t love the idea of a longer summer break? Well, besides teachers and other education professionals. But they’re a perpetual pain in Republicans’ backsides, so ticking them off is more a pro than a con for Hogan. As for parents, some might object to having to arrange a couple of extra weeks of summer child care, but the folks most impacted tend to be from poorer districts, who don’t much care for Hogan anyway. And while plenty of voters might question the wisdom of rejiggering school calendars in the service of tourism revenue, it’s not like they care enough to get all up in the governor’s face about it.
The tourism industry, by contrast, is going to love Hogan. A lot. And happy, prosperous business owners not only contribute more tax dollars to government coffers (Hogan’s office anticipates an increase in state and local annual tax revenue of $7.7 million), they can also be awfully grateful to friendly politicians. Just ask lawmakers in Virginia, where a post-Labor Day school start has been the law since 1986, thanks to the state’s rich—and politically generous—amusement-park industry. Virginia’s law is, not coincidentally, known as The Kings Dominion law, in honor of the state’s most prominent theme park, Six Flags Kings Dominion.
After years of watching Virginia rake in all that extra tourism cash (not to mention all the political donations and free amusement-park tickets that Virginia lawmakers enjoy), Hogan clearly wanted his state on that particular gravy train. Yet since he took office last year, he has repeatedly failed to get Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature to pass such a bill. Who knows why for certain? Maybe state Dems are in the pocket of the teachers’ unions and the education industry more broadly. Maybe Democrats didn’t want to give Hogan a win on an issue that is especially popular among his suburban constituents. Maybe it’s because the school districts that most favor (and benefit from) an early start date tend to be in poor, urban areas, which tend to vote Democratic. Or maybe Maryland Democrats just hate the beach. For whatever mix of reasons, Hogan couldn’t get the law through, and it was making him crazy.