Children in frigid areas have “snow day” school closures. Could students across sunny California face “budget days” in bad fiscal times?
Gov. Jerry Brown and school officials warn that shutting down school one month early—20 instructional days—is a real possibility next year without an extension of higher taxes. Some see Hawaii, which slashed 17 days in 2009-10, as an example that drastic measures are possible.
But there remain significant hurdles to imposing a month-long closure in California, particularly getting approval from teachers’ unions and lawmakers. Republicans suggest that Democrats are raising the possibility as a scare tactic.
In the past two years, most California school districts have reduced their schedules below the 180-day calendar that was standard here in the previous decade and remains the norm nationwide.
No legislative proposal exists, but Orange County Superintendent of Schools William Habermehl said his 27 districts are talking about the option, whether it means a shorter school year or four-day weeks.
The Corona-Norco Unified School District in Riverside County was one of those that reduced its school year to 175 days, the state minimum.
“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 that has morale at its all time low,” Corona-Norco Superintendent Kent Bechler testified at the state Capitol last month. “I think a 160-day school year is not out of the question.”
The Democratic governor is expected to outline deep cuts as he revises his budget in two weeks, when he will likely explain his alternate vision should Republicans block additional taxes to balance the remaining $15.4 billion deficit.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that eliminating each five-day school week statewide would save $1 billion.
So far, districts plan to rely more on larger class sizes and eliminating bus transportation to save money next year, among other solutions. But they are not ruling out school-year reductions depending on what Brown proposes. Any school year changes would have to be bargained with employee unions.
The discussion comes as President Barack Obama has challenged states to move in the opposite direction, concerned that U.S. students are losing ground to their counterparts around the world, some of whom attend school 220 days a year.