Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
In August, Gov. Larry Hogan proudly announced an executive order forcing public schools to remain closed until after Labor Day. Hogan wanted to boost tourism by extending summer break, but his decision comes at the expense of children whose academic retention and test preparation will take a hit. More importantly, policies like Hogan's ignore the dangers summer months pose to children living in poverty.
Although his plan extends time at the beach for those who can afford it, Hogan ignores the harsh reality of students in low-income families. His decision is only one example of a much larger problem: Willful ignorance of the challenges poor kids face. Turning a blind eye to these children is nothing new, but Maryland must do better. For some students, their lives depend on it.
Months away from the classroom negatively impact the learning of every student, but it is especially bad for children whose families cannot afford other enriching activities. Academic retention over the summer is dependent on financial status, widening existing disparities that our public school system should be working to close. Data shows that this problem directly impacts students in Maryland. A Johns Hopkins study of Baltimore schools concluded, "a majority of the achievement gap between high- and low-socioeconomic-status students can be attributed to differences in summer learning loss."
On average, low-income children lose over two months of reading skills, putting them "nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade." Research also shows that summer programs can prevent this slide. A study conducted by the Rand Corporation showed that districts offering free summer programs in math and reading (as well as arts, sailing and more) saw significant long-term benefits. Students' lives cannot stand still while school is closed. Children deserve some form of public education all year.
Beyond academic challenges, the summer is especially dangerous for children who rely on their school for food. In 2015, 84 percent of Baltimore public school students qualified for free and reduced-priced meals. Eighty four percent. Programs like FARMs demonstrate that, for many students, the importance of school extends beyond academics. Baltimore schools are now offering free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of income. But when summer break begins, many are left without a reliable source of food. Summer break and the systemic oppression of poor students, especially students of color, combine at the expense of those most vulnerable. Right here in Maryland, we must reckon with this shameful problem.
Hogan and those who seek to extend summer are wrong; we must fight on behalf of our most vulnerable students to shorten the break. In the meantime, Maryland is obligated to support its poorest students by investing in summer programs that provide both food and academic enrichment. We cannot preserve a system in which summer is a vacation for some children and suffering for others.
Jack Lewis is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at email@example.com.