With sales-tax collections lagging, states are finding themselves facing education budget deficits and few ways to relieve them short of draconian cuts that threaten recent gains.
Consider Georgia, Alabama’s neighbor to the east.
Over the years, Georgia has been a leader in lengthening the school year, reducing class sizes and providing more instruction time for students. Now all that is unraveling as the state allows local districts to bend rules that have been in place for decades.
Class sizes are going up, which means the state will need fewer teachers — more than 4,500 fewer, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics. To save money on special-education teachers, local districts are being given permission to include students with special needs in regular classes.
Districts also are lengthening the school day so they can shorten the school year but still keep the same number of instructional minutes. Result: longer classes, more students and less money spent on transportation, maintenance and utilities. Peach County, near Macon, has gone to a four-day school week.
Additionally, larger classes lead to discipline problems — and to teacher stress.
No one is quite sure what the consequences will be.
Studies have consistently shown the benefits gained by smaller classes, and in this era where performance on standardized tests counts for so much, what will happen in Georgia’s classrooms should be watched by all.
Not everyone is upset with this trend. As the school year lengthened, lobbyists for the tourism industry worked hard to keep summer vacation as long as possible, even though the longer the summer the greater the loss of student-learning skills. Their success is reflected in the Virginia state statute that prevents most public schools from opening before Labor Day. Known as the Kings Dominion Law, it is named in honor of the giant amusement park outside Richmond.
This week, Congress passed and the president signed a $26 billion relief package, $10 billion of which is targeted to save the jobs of 161,000 teachers facing imminent layoffs. More than 3,000 of these are in Alabama.
Republicans have denounced the measure as “a payoff to union bosses and liberal special interests” — terms that have been traditionally used to rally conservative supporters who oppose both. However, it should be noted that the money is supposedly balanced by reductions in food-stamp benefits and the closing of some corporate tax loopholes.
The legislation is bound to be a political issue in the coming election.
In the midst of the bickering and posturing, this fact should not be ignored: Saving teachers’ jobs is more than a way to keep them off unemployment rolls. It is a way to help students.
Students are a special interest, too.