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GAE pushing return to 180 instructional days

Georgia Association of Educators President Calvine Rogers says cutting instruction time below 180 days is unfair to Georgia students. (Terry Lewis)

Georgia Association of Educators President Calvine Rogers says cutting instruction time below 180 days is unfair to Georgia students. (Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — For the past six months, Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) President Calvine Rollins has been on a quest. Her mission is to bring the issue of restoring full funding for a 180-day school year to schools and communities throughout the state.

Rollins says the primary message is restoring equitable access to learning opportunities for all of Georgia’s children regardless of ZIP code, socioeconomic status or community tax base.

She cites studies in the United States and other countries that have concluded that effective student learning directly correlates to the number of student contact days and that fewer days equate to less effective student learning, no matter the length of the school day.

“Anything less than the 180-day school year is inherently unfair to students in poor and struggling Districts,” Rollins said. “It’s time to stop the clock from going backwards on our children and give them the best chance for success we can provide.”

According to the GAE, just 57 of the state’s 180 school districts (excluding 15 state charter schools) have the full 180-day school year. Chattooga County has the state’s lowest number of calendar days at 144.

Dorie Nolt, assistant director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education, says state law mandates either 180 calendar days of instruction or the equivalent in classroom seat time. She said some districts have lengthened school days by an hour to meet the instructional time equivalent.

Rollins, however, points out that in 2009, when looking for ways to “help” districts because they were getting less state monies, lawmakers adopted the policy of “budget flexibility” and removed the standard 180-day requirement and replaced it with a standard number of student contact hours in a school year.

“Just as lawmakers had the power to change state law and cut school funding, they equally have the power to restore those 180 school days for every system,” Rollins said. “Right now Georgia’s school districts are doing to best they can with reduced funding.”

Rollins asserts that wealthier districts with large tax bases have been able to use local funding to stave off reductions in student contact days, but districts with low tax bases cannot absorb the lost state funding.

“They have been forced to cut student contact days as well as furlough valuable employees in order to survive,” Rollins said. “Restoring full funding for a 180 day school year will also end those educator furloughs and keep much-needed teachers in the classroom. Governor (Nathan) Deal understood the importance of fully funding 180 days when he restored monies for pre-k earlier this year.

“We are encouraging school communities throughout the state to compel their lawmakers to take the same steps to support effective student learning in grades K-12 throughout the state,” said Rollins.