On the luxurious boardwalk of Ocean City, Governor Larry Hogan announced his mandate for shortening the school year across the state; no school would be allowed to begin until after Labor Day, and schools must completed by June 15th. He explained that this action would increase business activities statewide and decrease the cost spent on air conditioning the classrooms.
While Hogan explanation makes the act sound benevolent and in the public interest, it may actually have an adverse effect on the low-income community. Karl Alexander, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, researched the effects of school lengths on knowledge retention. What he discovered was that the average student loses about two months of schooling over the summer. However, those with low-income backgrounds were more severely impacted as compared to those with high-income backgrounds. Therefore, an act elongating the length of summer may help keep low-income students academically lagging behind high-income students.
What is more suspicious is the fact that Hogan delivered this action as an executive order – not as legislation. According to pollsters at Goucher College, seventy-two percent of Marylanders supported the restriction of the school year. However, Hogan’s choice to circumvent the legislative process and act through executive order suggests a motive to score cheap political points at the expense of low-income students. Many of those who are negatively affected by the mandate are located in Baltimore City – a Democratic hub where in the last gubernatorial election cycle Hogan only received 22 percent of the vote. Hogan’s administration is not concerned about the votes lost in a district where his fellow Republicans cannot win. It is clear that Hogan is using this to increase the favorability of the Republican office in swing districts before the elections in November. At the same time, Hogan is attempting to gain this credit without ceding any political points to the Democratic controlled legislative branch.
Taking advantage of the disenfranchised is nothing new in the realm of politics, but the amount of ignorance Hogan displays exceeds historical standards. A supporter wrote on Hogan’s Facebook page: “I went to school after Labor Day … and now I’m a doctor.” Hogan replied: “Me too and I was able to become governor!”
What Hogan and his supporters fail to take into consideration is the stark difference in the summer lifestyle across the economic spectrum. Hogan and many of his supporters, who live in the state with the highest median income levels, have no trouble finding their kids summer camps, college preparatory course, or even a posh vacation to Ocean City. On the contrary, low-income kids, particularly in the inner cities, spend their summers at work – if anywhere at all. Additionally, many of the low-income kids receive their only meal of the day through school-provided meals. It makes you wonder whether Hogan’s supporters, or even Hogan himself, could have achieved their apex if they shared the childhood many inner city students endure.
It can still be debated whether Hogan had good intentions. By extending the summer for Marylanders, he single handedly created a few extra weeks of peak economic activity for many resort and small business owners. However, lower income neighborhoods reap less of the benefits provided by the increased business during the summer. A study done by American Express finds that American families spent an average of $958 keeping their kids active in the summer of 2014. Among those who were observed, seventy-seven percent spent money on day trips, forty-eight percent spent money at the ballpark, forty-one percent took a pool or club membership, and thirty-four percent sent their kids to camps. Essentially, these statistics suggest that the money is heading towards upper-class resort businesses, not the inner cities.
Hogan should have left the decision to the communities to deliberate amongst themselves. Since the public approval for increasing the length of summer was high, the communities would have changed the school year if they saw fit; there was no need for government intervention. In this way, the wealthier schools could have elongated summers while the poorer schools could have increased schooling. The result would have been businesses receiving a boost in commercial activity and at-risk students receiving more schooling and keeping up with the wealthier schools. What bureaucrats and elected officials often forget is that people more-or-less know what is best for their own communities. By acting through executive order, Hogan has successfully ignored the nuances of policy effects on the community level.
The typical public response to a hurtful agenda like this would be to use political power to vote the official out of office. However, in this case, those who are hurt by the policy are those who already vote in large numbers against the official. Therefore, the only way to retaliate is to spread the word; it is imperative to increase understanding of the unequal damaging effects of the policy and garner supporters from communities that are not as badly affected. Only in this way can the electorate send a message that they disapprove of the actions taken by the administration to elected officials. Ironically, only through education can we save low-income education.
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