Good idea in theory: But schools can’t lengthen calendar with shorter funds

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2011

Winston-Salem Journal
The General Assembly has finally awakened to the international competition North Carolina faces in public education. Unfortunately, its leadership immediately hit the snooze button and returned to sleep.
The new budget adds five days to the 180-day school year. While that doesnít bring our schools into line with nations like Japan, South Korea and Germany, which have as many as 240 days and where student achievement is far greater, the extra days point us in the right direction.
The U.S. is living off its seed corn. We have universal education, a large population, great universities and many intellectual resources. But our students underachieve internationally. We can no longer afford an academic calendar devised for an agrarian economy.
Some detractors of a longer school year argue that we should not extend the calendar until we do better with each of the 180 days we already have. How convenient an argument to make if you donít want to pay for extra days or work the extra school days.
The truth is that five more less-than-totally-efficient school days are still five more days of learning for children.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools officials are indicating theyíll seek a waiver on the extension for the coming year because they havenít had time to prepare for it. But the bigger problem, as school board member Vic Johnson noted, is that the extension comes as the Legislature severely cuts education funding.
The schools are already searching for ways to deal with hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts, including $124 million in cash aid. Now these five extra days arrive as an unfunded mandate. Where will the schools get the money to heat and cool the buildings for the extra days or to run the school buses? These are not insignificant expenses.
And the extra school days come without extra pay for teachers. They, in effect, are being told to work an extra week, no matter how you formulate your argument with regard to teacher workdays, and they are getting no money to do so. Thatís not right and, along with other developments, it will only diminish teaching as a career choice for many good people.
Letís hope the snooze setting is short and that the Legislature reawakens to the need for stronger public education soon.