I caught this news on my phone, perusing the mobile site of the LA Times. Then again, I saw the hard copy, peeking through the plastic cover of the morning paper as I brought it inside as I was loading the car on my way to work.
Sluggish state revenue is likely to trigger a new round of spending cuts that could mean a shorter school year and millions of dollars slashed from public universities, child care programs and services for the disabled, the Legislative Analyst’s Office says.
California’s coffers will be $3.7 billion below what lawmakers and the governor assumed in the budget they crafted last summer, said Mac Taylor, the analyst whom legislators look to for nonpartisan financial advice. The new reductions were built into the spending plan, to kick in if state income fell short.
A final decision will be made next month, when Gov. Jerry Brown‘s Department of Finance releases its own forecast for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. Taylor said the projections could still change enough to ward off some of the deepest cuts. But his announcement Wednesday was the first official confirmation that reductions are likely…[t]he grim news prompted outrage from education officials who have already sharply pared their budgets. But it was no surprise to economists who had criticized Brown for balancing the budget by anticipating an extra $4 billion in revenue after he failed to secure Republican support for a ballot measure to raise taxes…At the urging of teachers unions, legislators barred districts from closing the money gap by laying off teachers. Rather, they would have to cut expenses elsewhere. The state gave them permission to trim up to a week from the school year if they agreed with their local teachers unions to do so.
While I could very easily sit here and turn this comment into an orgy of vitriol towards Republican lawmakers for the fact that they regularly drink the Grover Norquist tax Kool-Aid. Or, I could fault moderate Democrats for aiding and abetting said impulses. But my first response had nothing to do with revenue. It had to do with time. As I prepare to take 3 furlough days next week (which lengthens the Turkey Day holiday–good. But it means less pay–not so good.), I suddenly had to reconcile the reality that I might not have as much instructional time as I might hope to have.
Instructional Time has become a bit of a sore point of late, given the manner in which the subjects must get covered in such a way to prepare students for the California Standards Test (CST) in addition to District pacing guides which are working their way into use this school year. When you add in recess, lunch break, weekly planning time, and then throw in monthly assemblies, fire drills, etc., and couple those time demands with designated minutes for core and supplemental subjects, there’s not a whole lot of time left to “free wheel” the curriculum, particularly now that the subject of a shortened school year might be about to rear its ugly head.
It’s also holiday time. Despite the fact that traditional holidays are not specifically mentioned in the state standards, the siren call of doing holiday activities in lieu of academic subject matter can also lead a teacher astray in terms of how the year gets paced out. In other words, does learning to sing a song about Mommy’s attraction for Santa Claus more important for a student than pushing forward in Social Studies such that key ideas like the Cherokee diaspora or the Transcontinental Railroad get covered? I’ve always favored the latter, but the problem as I see it is that more often than not, the decision is taken out of my hands. In other words, if some sort of holiday activity is planned, I have to adjust my teaching time to clear a spot in the daily schedule to account for the activity. I’m not allowed to exercise professional judgement with respect to respectfully passing on taking part in the activity. While I’m “invited”, I can only RSVP “yes”.
Now, mind you, this is not our monthly award ceremonies, this is in addition to those demands I’ve outlined above.
As we close in on Turkey Day, and seeing the announcement of potential school year truncation in this morning’s paper, my concerns about the proper use of instructional time takes on an even greater urgency for me.
This afternoon, I really wanted to close out the first trimester with some sort of low-key activity. Instead, I finished the math lesson that had to be cut in half because of the day’s Award Assembly, and then I went around trying to corral final writing samples from kids in order to gather additional evidence prior to starting report cards tomorrow. The news this morning scared me. Ben Franklin is always proven right: lost time is never found again.