At the very time when we should be looking to increase learning opportunities for our children, some in Sacramento are talking about the possibility of shortening the school year. With our schools squarely in the crosshairs of potential further cuts to state-funded programs, cutting the number of schools days – always a big revenue saver for the state – is being seen as way to help fill a possible budget shortfall. While the politics around the proposal are not yet clear, Governor Brown signed legislation earlier this year that gave districts the option of shortening their school year to 168 days, should tax revenues fall short of the hoped-for level of $2 billion.
It would make our state 48th out of the 50 states when it comes to the number of days children are given the chance to be in school, and it would put us even further behind the nations we’re trying to compete with globally, some of which have instructional calendars of 220 days.
Some districts in the state have already shortened their school year to the state minimum of 175 days. To them, it’s hardly a choice at all, given the fiscal realities they confront. And, if cutting school days is a choice that’s not really a choice, what’s emerging as the real decision in strapped districts is whether to choose quantity or quality.
“As terrible as it might be, I would advocate for a shorter year with a quality school program rather than a longer year and a decimated program…” one district superintendent said in Sacramento recently.
Just this 2011 – 2012 school year, our local schools were able to restore five days to the district calendar that had been cut in each of the previous two years in response to severe State budget cuts. Local educators and parents were thrilled to be able to return to a full 180 day school year. However, shortly after school started in September, new discussions commenced that could result in additional days cut from future school calendars.
If education were truly the priority that it should be, this either-or situation would be recognized for what it is: forcing school districts into a false choice between giving children the time they need in school on one hand and affording them high-quality programs on the other. Our children need and deserve both.