A Big Day for Learning Time

Last spring, California Governor Jerry Brown made clear that, given the state’s ballooning deficit, the state might be forced to make drastic cuts in education funding to local districts and, in turn, to then allow school districts to cut days from the school year by up to three weeks. As one political analyst suggested, losing days of school was the least bad option, “We are way behind the rest of the world in the number of school days, and California is nearly dead last. To further that would be horrible. But to lay off people [or] have larger class sizes, [those] are not a good choice either.”  Or, as Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said about his district, Sacramento City Unified, which had already cut athletics, busing and counselors, among other things next school year: "What is there left? Nothing."

The question was put to the voters last week in the form of Proposition 30, a ballot referendum that asked for higher taxes on those making over $250,000 and on a higher sales tax for all specifically to fund education. If the initiative passed, the state stood to gain an additional $6 billion in revenue and would thus be able to stave off the cuts in education that had been proposed. By a 54 to 46 percent margin, voters approved Prop 30.  
The reaction from the K-12 education community was, obviously, one of relief.  Superintendent John Deasy, of Los Angeles Unified, explained, “We are very, very pleased. So, instead of facing a catastrophic situation where we were dismantling public education, we're stable.”
Further up the Pacific coast, another quite different ballot referendum in Washington State, Initiative 1240, which called for the state to approve up to 40 charter schools, also brought with it implications for learning time. By a close 51 to 49 percent vote, voters approved the measure and so now Washington will join 41 other states to allow charters.  As NCTL explained in Learning Time in America, our 2011 policy report, charters stand at the vanguard of the expanded-time movement:
Charter schools, in some ways, offer a kind of “natural experiment” on the question of the adequacy of the conventional school calendar. Founders of charters, most of which start as brand-new schools, are presented with a straightforward challenge to establish a school that will meet their future students’ educational needs. In a majority of cases, charter educators decide that the traditional calendar provides insufficient time for their students to achieve proficiency in the state’s learning standards. So, not bound by fixed district policies related to school time, a longer day and/or year becomes the option of choice.
We are heartened by voters’ willingness to, in California’s case, invest in public schools and, in Washington’s case, to encourage innovation in public education to better serve children.  We can only hope that with each passing election, the public becomes ever more attuned to the pivotal role that schools play in our nation’s future and how it is incumbent upon each of us to support their continued growth and improvement in whatever ways we can.
***UPDATE #1:  I had missed this one other good-news-for-learning-time story out of Cleveland that deserves attention.  Last spring the Cleveland School Board cut 50 minutes from the school day for all K – 8 students (by eliminating art, music and gym classes). But voters approved a new tax levy on Election Day that would restore over $60 million to the school budget. Almost immediately, the school board then voted to restore the classes that had been cut, effective in January.
***UPDATE #2: The vote in California in support of Prop 30 has had an immediate impact on at least one district.  And no small thing, too, since it is the largest in the state.  On Tuesday, the School Board for Los Angeles Unified voted to restore the academic year to a full 180 days, overriding the cut of five days it had imposed the last couple of academic years.