From my colleague Jim Galloway over at Political Insider:
Wrapping up a morning of hearings on the state’s 2011 budget and the monster cuts that could come with it, Scott Austensen, the deputy state school superintendent for finance, touched not one, but two third-rails of Georgia politics.
First, he told lawmakers at the Capitol, the state needs to look at reducing the 180-days of instruction now required for K-12 students. Secondly, lottery money could be used to offset some technology expenditures in public schools – something lawmakers haven’t approved in years.
Afterwards, in a scrum with reporters, Austensen said that, depending on the severity of cuts to come, budget writers need to look beyond the teacher-training days now used for mandatory time off:
“Thus far, the six-day furloughs have come out of professional development days because – by law – even though the governor [declared] the furlough days, he didn’t change the requirement of 180 days or the equivalent…
“We’re suggesting looking at how deep those cuts may be. If it’s another six days, well, maybe that’s professional development. But if it’s going to be more than six days, we need to look at giving school systems the ability and flexibility to reduce some of those 180 days.”
I understand the budget crunch but I hope Georgia does not become one of the first states to slash the overall amount of time that children must attend school under the law. I think it delivers the wrong message at a pivotal moment. (But I also thought shutting down the schools to save gas telegraphed a horrible message to the rest of the country. I believe we were the only state to close schools to conserve gas.)
I think states that solve their budget woes on the backs of their education systems are not grasping the changing economy and the powerful draw of a well educated workforce. If we chip away at our schools at every crisis, any hopes of gaining of national reputation as an educational leader will be reduced to dust.