Shortening the school year to balance budget. Terrible idea. Terrible message.

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.

68 comments Add your comment


February 23rd, 2010
5:34 pm

Well said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


February 23rd, 2010
5:43 pm

The only way the public will really care about the cuts to education is to let it directly effect them. Fewer school days will have enough effect that it will get the attention of those who need the babysitting school provides. I think it could end up being very positive for Georgia. Right now, the only ones directly affected are the teachers. They have to do a lot more with a lot less (and more responsibilities upcoming), and the governor counts on teachers doing the work anyway “for the good of the children”. The effect on students is more subtle. We can only guess how the learning would be improved if the governor had not started his “austerity cuts” back during the fat times.


February 23rd, 2010
5:45 pm

Duh!!!!!!!! Now, why don’t legislators understand this??!?

Just A Teacher

February 23rd, 2010
5:50 pm

I guess you saw the response that your earlier column got on this topic and decided to take it down. I still say that Georgia’s teachers need to join the organized labor force and force our state government to take us seriously. Legally, the state of Georgia cannot keep us from joining a union and will have to negotiate with us if we shut down the schools. Federal law supercedes state law, and we are United States citizens with the right to bargain collectively with our employer.


February 23rd, 2010
5:51 pm

Public schoolin’ is socialist!!!


February 23rd, 2010
6:02 pm

When will the legislators understand that the school system is not the whipping post for the budget woes of the state? We can definitely improve and streamline budgets and spending in the schools, but shortening the school year is not a feasible solution for teachers OR students. BAD IDEA!!

E. Cobb Parent

February 23rd, 2010
6:05 pm

I still think we need to address the weak curriculum first and cut the fat at the local central offices. Then we can discuss the number of days in a year.

Native ATL

February 23rd, 2010
6:16 pm

I don’t see how this will benefit anyone. I don’t understand if I paid $400 more in property taxes this year after my property value went down by 25% and now they still need to cut more of the budget???? Maybe I need to go back to school too – because this new math seems really shady to me.


February 23rd, 2010
6:18 pm

We need to change how schools are funded. I propose consumption tax with a change to our constitution. Abolish 16th Amendment! Institute FairTax. States go to consumption taxes as a necessity. Expand Ga Lottery programs. Add Casino to Hartsfeild/Jackson Airport Area. Maybe the Old Hapeville Ford Plant property. Yeah Getter Done!


February 23rd, 2010
6:24 pm

Response at 5:45 still stuck in filter.

Wounded Warrior

February 23rd, 2010
6:35 pm

who does not love a 3 day weekend? I say go for a 4 day work week. more time with my kids.

Northern Visitor

February 23rd, 2010
6:48 pm

Excellent idea! You really don’t need that much of an education for farm work, making carpets, or working at the chicken plant now do you?

Northview (Ex)Teacher

February 23rd, 2010
6:50 pm

Republicans: stupid does as stupid is.


February 23rd, 2010
6:53 pm

Just wait until parents have to pay for daycare for their kids when these school days are taken away. They’ll find that’s a tax in itself. They’ll figure that out that math soon enough.


February 23rd, 2010
6:53 pm

These proposals are very sad indeed. Making it even more difficult to understand is the fact that even during the good economic years recently, school budgets were cut deeply. It is no wonder our kids don’t appreciate the value of an education, our politicians are telling them loudly and clearly that education is not important enough to find ways to fund it.

Yes. We are in a difficult budget year. Everyone knows that. The horrible decisions of the last eight years have left us with no means to sustain state services. In most homes, budgets are priortized to support the most important things first. In our state we certainly can not afford to cut days of instruction from our children.


February 23rd, 2010
7:23 pm

If this become a serious solution to our budget woes, I say it it time to speak at the voting booth. GEA needs to list all those who vote yes to this proposal and they need to be at the top of teacher the”kick out incumbent list”.

why not?

February 23rd, 2010
7:25 pm

I read many teachers here talking about how little things get done after the testing. If that’s the case, why not shorten a school year – and pay teachers less accordingly?


February 23rd, 2010
7:27 pm

Reducing the number of days is a terrible idea. Even if a few minutes are added to each day to “equalize” the loss of school days, that handful of extra minutes added to a class hardly equals the value of daily contact. If anything, we should be considering a calendar with more days- but not longer days. By the 4:00 PM most kids (and their teachers) are a bit ragged. We already see the kids returning from a three day weekend in need of some reteaching to put them back in touch with what’s been going on in class. A year full of 4 day weeks is simply unsound.

Reality Mom

February 23rd, 2010
7:28 pm

Schools actually need MORE DAYS, MORE TEACHING and LESS TESTING! If Sonny can buy his fish….


February 23rd, 2010
7:34 pm

SO “Why Not?- Do you want to take a job that barely breaks $30,000 after you just finished paying tens of thousands on a college education? Where do we treat teachers as professionals. Let’s do this- let’s tell doctors and dentists that get state and federal funding to serve ill people to reduce their visits with patients by 10 minutes to make the visit more efficient and at teh same time pay the doctors and dentists less. Will we get the results we want? The same goes for educating students.


February 23rd, 2010
7:39 pm

Completely agree! I have family in a district in Minnesota that tried this during this school year. Two family members work for the district. They’ve told me that it hasn’t saved them near the amount of money they thought it would. I’ll have to check the district’s website for any BOE minutes to see if there is info in there on this topic.

@why not? — Totally disagree with the comment on “nothing happens after testing.” I am a teacher, and as soon as testing is over we are right back to work. Think about it….if I stop teaching, can you imagine what in the world I’d be doing with a roomful of students for six more weeks? WE WORK!!!! HARD!!! I’ll give you that the last day of school doesn’t have a lot going on, but the day before — we’re still working.

Freedom Education

February 23rd, 2010
7:51 pm

There are two solutions:

A. Parental choice—The $8,000+ per student goes to the (public or private) school parents wants. First, parents become responsible for their children’s education (what a novel idea). Second, competition will create better academics. If teachers don’t give parents what they want (good education), then the schools or teachers will be looking for a new career (merit pay). Third, there would be no need for superintendents, assistants, and other central office staff that make $100,000 to $350,000 a year. There used to be 100,000 school district 50 years ago, and now there are 10,000 mega districts. John Stossel’s show on February 18 addressed many of these educational problems and he was right when he said, “education is too important to leave it to a government monopoly, attach the money to the kids, allow competition.”

B. Allow a four-day workweek, which would add two hours to the four days. Funds would be saved from buses, full, heat, electricity, and many more services. This would save teachers their small paycheck. Remember, teachers are only paid for the days they work. Teachers don’t receive pay for holidays, vacations, or bonuses.


February 23rd, 2010
8:08 pm

Oh, but you want teachers to work more days but for less days pay. Makes no sense…like buying your newspaper.

high school teacher

February 23rd, 2010
8:09 pm

~sigh~ Just cut our pay and be done with it…

Sun E. Purdoo

February 23rd, 2010
8:15 pm

@ highschool teacher

Will do!


February 23rd, 2010
8:20 pm

catlady, your prejudice screeches like nails on a chalkboard. Perhaps if you looked at things from a parent’s viewpoint instead of your obviously jaded one, you might see a different picture. All parents do NOT use the schools for babysitting… trust me, if I did, I’d find a much more caring one! These financial times have hit non-teaching parents at LEAST as hard as the teachers…most teachers still have jobs…10% of the rest of the public is unemployed,with almost everyone worried about whether they’ll have a job next week or next month. Most parents are scared, stressed, and continuing to try to provide for their kids as best they can. The schools are not considered daycare centers, but if parents have the increased financial burden of childcare on top of what they are already drowning under, it does affect them and the economy. They spend even less, decreasing local revenue, and contributing to a vicious financial mess. As I’ve said before, your mean-spirited attitude towards parents and their kids makes me ever so glad you’ll never teach one of mine.


February 23rd, 2010
8:37 pm

I still think the state would save a bundle of money overall by going back to the 1850 county boundaries. Fewer school boards, fewer superintendents, fewer sheriff’s departments, fewer county commissions, fewer county managers, fewer tax collectors…need I go on?

Georgia Teacher

February 23rd, 2010
8:44 pm

Unfortunately, education is the 800 lb gorilla in the budget. If you want to make an impact on the budget, you have to cut education.

That said, if the state is going to ignore its own laws and rules when it comes to funding, districts should have the same right when it comes to the state. Allow all of the districts to keep their 5 mills of QBE funding instead of sending it off to the state. Maybe then we can absorb the loss of state funding.

I’m sorry, but I am tired of my district’s budget being slashed by the state when we don’t get back as much as we put into the QBE pot.

Wounded Warrior

February 23rd, 2010
8:46 pm

@northern visitor…delta is ready when you are.

Joy in Teaching

February 23rd, 2010
9:09 pm

This is just downright depressing.

I like to think that I’ve made some sort of difference in the lives of my students for the past 21 years, but the state of Georgia apparently could give a rat’s a**. I’ve had students go on to Ivy League Schools. I had one student become a Rhodes Scholar. One of my favorites from years ago (an almost dropout) is a resident specializing in pediatric AIDS cases. I’ve held children during their darkest hours. I’ve fed them and helped them to find safety.

But the state of Georgia does not care. Many parents do not care. Many students do not care. They only want more.

Our budgets were slashed during the good times with funds diverted elsewhere. Yet we were supposed to teach more students with fewer materials.

All sorts of demands have been made on teachers and schools which could actually be achieved IF they didn’t take away many of the tools (such as student discipline) which could actually help us achieve those goals. Now, in addition to not allowing teachers and schools to be successful in teaching our children, our beloved Governor is bound and determined to not only make teachers live in near poverty, but crush any spark of good will we have towards our jobs.

It’s just depressing.

Sped Red

February 23rd, 2010
9:31 pm

I’ve got an idea! Make parents buy their children’s books! We would accomplish two things; save money for each school system and, find out which parents are really involved. Another thought would be to standardize texts throughout the state. A large bulk order is surely cheaper than 150+ system orders. Cost cuts need innovation. Our systems and our polititians(sic) need to cut small items first,but they have always taken the easy way and cut the biggest and most visible items first.

Also as “Race to the Top” is a ONE time federal cash outlay-How will performance pay continue after year one? Ask your state rep that question.


February 23rd, 2010
9:34 pm

Now, can’t you see how assinine it is that the politicians propose “pay for performance” in this environment?

There is no way that the pay plan can be designed, managed, or funded properly by the clowns we call lawmakers. This is not about improving education. Everything is about cutting the money. Thats it.

Lisa B.

February 23rd, 2010
10:06 pm

If all the kids are given vouchers to attend the whichever schools they choose, what happens to the students who have parents who refuse to be responsible? How is transportation handled? In my small school system, we have only four schools. Students would have to travel a minimum of 20 miles to attend public or private schools in other counties.

I don’t know the answer, but I have concerns about fewer schools days. Several systems are talking about going to a 160-day calendar. School still lasts five days per week, but starts later and ends earlier. I read about a north GA county school system that already implemented the 160-calendar this year and has now approved it again for next year. The kids go 20 fewer days rather than 36 fewer day (as on the 4-day school week).

My school makes AYP each year by a small margine. I am afraid that margin will vanish if we are forced to cut days.


February 23rd, 2010
10:16 pm

Somebody please tell me what the heck the schools are doing with the multiple MILLIONS of dollars in ARRA stimulus funds that are pouring into EACH of Georgia’s LOCAL school systems.
Look it up on the Fed Stimulus site, local school systems are making away like bandits with the fed cash, all the while, claiming that our children are the victims of their pay cuts??. Forgive me if I ignore the chatter from the peanut gallery. They need to take cuts like every other state employee. Don’t use our children as a tool to try to keep your income from being cut. Teachers aren’t any more important than the rest of us no matter how much they try to convince us otherwise.


February 23rd, 2010
10:21 pm

I am a middle-class taxpayer. I have no intention of living in a state that balances its budget by decreasing the number of days it will educate its youth. What a terrible signal this would be for Georgia to send people and businesses across the country who might be thinking of moving to Georgia. Georgia will be known as the state that teaches the children of its citizens for fewer days than any other state. All of the marketing campaigns in the world won’t be enough to undo the damage to Georgia’s “brand,”

And don’t believe they’ll stop at 175, either.

Public School Parent

February 23rd, 2010
10:32 pm

I’d rather pay more taxes than have the school year cut.

And doesn’t anyone care that GA is still 48th or 49th in education? Or has Mississippi passed us?

There are plenty of places that could be cut before education. Has Sonny’s Go Fish program been entirely eliminated? Temporarily close some of the less visited state parks until the economy improves. Stop paving every inch of Georgia with highways. Eliminate special interest tax deductions and quit creating new ones. More tax on cigarettes.


February 24th, 2010
12:10 am

The ARRA money that went directly to the districts was for Title 1 and IDEA (special ed).

bob o wilcox

February 24th, 2010
1:48 am

I’m fed up with elected officials who can;t runa budget. Even before No-bama, we pandered to the unions to the point of letting their dues support the political party who promises goodies to teacher’s unions. (that would be what’s left of the democratic party) For years we gave money to the unions and we watched administrative overhead grow while we simultaneously killed successful school programs that weren’t under the socialist watch of the public school system and their unions.

For years I said “no” to taxes and then watched it show up on my property taxes. California went from top five to 49th in 25 short years. And now? More pandering. More unions. More power. More diversity, sensitivity training and gay sex education for 3rd graders.

But IMPROVE education? HA HA HA HA. More tenure? Sure. Money? You bet!! Union control and political pandering? Absolutely!!!

And now they have a budget problem – again. And now they want to reduce educational services – again.

Can someone tell me (without whining please) why we have to put up with unions? Tenure? Out of control spending? And controversial education to our young children defended with “we know better”

Kick ‘em out and keep ‘em out until they can educate our children and run a balanced budget – without unions and without political pandering.

Joy in Teaching

February 24th, 2010
5:16 am

@ bob o wilcox

Georgia is a right to work state, meaning teachers do not have rights to collective bargaining and thus do not belong to unions.

@ Maureen

Is there any way possible that you could put in very large letters on the blog description that there are no teacher unions in Georgia? It is getting to be very tiring to point this out every couple of hours on this blog.

high school teacher

February 24th, 2010
6:25 am

Sped Red, a good idea about textbooks, but this wouldn’t save money at this point as no one has had the money to order new textbooks, nor will they have the money in the next few years.

I wonder how this decision will impact schools on the block schedule. They already receive a waiver to have 900 minutes less of instructional time(90 days at 90 minutes versus 180 days at 50 minutes). 10 more days is detrimental – that would be another 450 minutes of instruction per block (classes are only for a semester, so I am assuming 5 days for each semester). My system recently changed from a 6 period day to a 7 period day, slashing 5 minutes from each class. Believe it or not, I miss those 5 minutes. Losing 10 more days…wow.

Oh no, wait a minute. They will probably extend the school day, which means we will work more time for the same pay, and students won’t be able to have any free time at home. Yeah, great plan…

Write Your Board Members

February 24th, 2010
6:56 am

I do believe that if we are going to furlough teachers that students need to furloughed as well. Maybe just a day or two, but the concept of shared sacrifice is a very important one. Start school one day later, end school one day earlier. The world won’t end.


February 24th, 2010
8:03 am

@ bob o wilcox
What union? There is no union in Georgia for teachers. Have you ever seen teachers strike? No because there is no union. The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) is an educational association most teachers join because they give you legal representation in case you get sued.

The GAE includes all the administrators in education – Kathy Cox, the state superintendent no doubt belongs to the GAE. The last time I looked upper management did get invited to join the union.

I worked for Southern Bell for many years. I started out in a “craft” job. I didn’t join the union, but most craft personnel belonged. That is a real union – the Communication Workers of America (CWA). If they said strike, you had to strike. Later when I was in a position called management (really a salesperson, no one under me), I had to cross a picket line to perform a craft job during a strike as people yelled “scab”. It was a tumultuous time. That’s a union.

For teachers – no union in Georgia.

It’s odd how the states like Mass. and NY that have real teachers unions have some of highest test scores in the nation. Georgia who has no teachers union has much lower test scores. Is there a correlation?


February 24th, 2010
8:40 am

we would not be in the situation of having to cut back so much on schools and laying off teachers if GWB’s stupid no child left behind garbage had never existed. Hiring hundreds of thousands of parapros and thousands of addition special ed teachers have caused education costs to skyrocket. We have doubled the cost of education for what?..trying to help 5% of the schools population of special ed kids. So in short GWB’s education legacy “no child left behind” is coming back to roost.


February 24th, 2010
8:55 am

Georgia’s a laughing stock and a poor excuse for a state. Georgia’s clueless on property taxes, traffic, education, you name it. School administrators erasing and altering test scores, teachers having sex with students, no money to keep fire stations open, no money to keep schools open, no money to keep officers on the street, Monticello had to completely shut-down their police dept. We can’t keep Atlanta from flooding EVERY TIME it rains, College tuition keeps going up but the schools can find $500k to pay the football coach.

Homeschool Mom

February 24th, 2010
9:25 am

Close all the schools, fire all the teachers and home educate your children as God intended! It’s economical and even a bad homeschool education is better than the best government institutional education!

reality check

February 24th, 2010
9:27 am

I will go ahead and swat the bees nest with a politically incorrect statement. It is also the truth.

Average test scores of Georgia students, as well as those of other Southern states, are lower than others primarily because of the racial makeup of the population. It is empirical that Asian students score the highest, Caucasians next, and African Americans and Hispanics are lower. According to the study commissioned under Roy Barnes, Caucasian and African American students in Georgia score average or slightly above national averages for their race. But Georgia and other Southern States have higher percentages of African Americans than other states resulting in lower average scores based primarily on demographics.

I am no Roy Barnes fan. And believe it or not I am not a racist. But facts are facts.

I don’t see easy solutions for our problems in funding education. No child left behind is the law, as is providing free education for students with special needs. And with our economy in the tank taxes are down. These are tough times and bad things are happening.


February 24th, 2010
9:54 am

Wretched, reality check.

It’s socio-economics, not race.

But you are right that we have a good chunk of our population that are near impossible to educate – the poor. And to make matters worse, we have a one-size-fits-all curriculum.


February 24th, 2010
10:08 am

Brad, Let us get our facts straight. GWB took credit of No child left behind but the bill was not written by him. The bill was written by the beloved Teddy. I thought at the time and still think today that it was full of items that were detrimental to education and was a huge mistake for GWB to sign it.


February 24th, 2010
10:14 am

It’s not something anyone wants, but keep the days and cut the salaries- for everyone. If a business faces challenges, it will cut pay but try to maintain its output. Schools need to do the same.

To make the salary cuts equitable use a sliding scale, where folks at the bottom get a 1-3% cut, those in the middle 4-7%, those near the top of the teacher salary scale 8 – 10%, and those down at the county office with their big $100,000 salaries 10 – 20%.

It’s not pretty, but it beats cutting days. Longer days aren’t a solution.

John K

February 24th, 2010
10:21 am

Harold, people in Georgia will never play that game. They’ll blame unions for the education problems, but you think when you point out Georgia doesn’t have a teachers’ union, and states with unions have better scores, that they’ll sit up and demand one? It’s an easy boogeyman for those who graduated in the 49th “best” state for education.