Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature agree: The state should again require a minimum 180-day school year, starting in 2015-16.
Brown confirmed his view in a section of the 154-page education “trailer bill,” the supplemental legislation accompanying the state budget, that the administration released last week.
The Legislature reduced the minimum number of instructional days to 175 in 2008, amid severe cuts in school funding, in order to allow school districts to shut down operations and use staff furloughs instead of additional layoffs. Lawmakers set an expiration date at the end of the 2014-15 school year. Brown is recommending the same timetable.
Districts took up the offer. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which did a survey of districts, 39 percent of districts reduced the school year by 2010-11, with a fifth of districts dropping one to four days and a fifth of districts reducing the maximum five days. Most of those districts continued with the shorter year in 2011-12, too.
A survey by EdSource of the state’s 30 largest districts (“Schools Under Stress: Pressures Mount on California’s Largest School Districts,” pages 12-13), enrolling a third of the state’s 6.2 million students, in November 2011 found that a dozen of those districts had reduced the length of the school year, with nine at the minimum 175 days. A follow-up survey last October revealed that 14 of the 30 had scheduled less than 180 instructional days this year; again this year, nine unified districts had adopted 175 instructional days: Capistrano, Chino Valley, Corono-Norco, Fontana, Los Angeles, Moreno Valley, San Bernardino City, San Diego and Twin Rivers.
Districts dodged a bullet when voters passed Proposition 30 in November. Had they not, K-12 and community colleges would have faced an immediate and permanent $6 billion cut. The Legislature would have permitted districts to cut 15 more days – three weeks – this year and next, for the shortest instructional calendar in the nation. Since Proposition 30 passed, some districts are building back a few days this year, and others are expected to return to 180 days next year. San Bernardino is one district that confirmed it is not planning to add more days to its 175-day calendar next year.
Along with adopting a shorter school year, the Legislature temporarily cut the strings attached to spending on 40 categorical programs, totaling $4.5 billion. Restrictions were to be reimposed at the end of this school year, but Brown is proposing to make spending flexibility permanent as part of the Local Control Funding Formula, his sweeping finance reform plan. The governor is viewing a uniform minimum school year as a state mandate, consistent with court decisions defining the state’s obligation to provide equal access to education to all students.
The state Department of Finance is projecting a $7 billion growth in Proposition 98 spending for K-12 and community colleges between 2013-14 ($56 billion) and 2015-16 ($63 billion). By drawing attention to the 180-day year, Brown is signaling to those districts not now at the minimum that they have two years to make it a priority.