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Teacher Furloughs May Save Money, But Hurt Students

Teacher Furloughs May Save Money, But Hurt Students
School districts turn to furlough days to balance budgets, but those days may hurt student learning in the process.

Teachers unions in the Carlsbad and Sweetwater school districts have reached tentative concession agreements to roll back teacher layoffs, according to the unions' websites. The contracts could save about 70 jobs in Carlsbad and 190 for Sweetwater teachers.

The agreements rely on furlough days to close each district’s budget gap. Five days in Carlsbad and up to 14 for Sweetwater if Governor Jerry Brown’s November tax initiative fails. In Carlsbad, the unpaid time will include three instructional days, while Sweetwater students would lose 13 classroom days.

Brown has proposed allowing up to 15 furlough days for school districts if his tax initiative fails, which would decrease the state's mandated school days to 165 from 180. Schools have had the option of shortening the school year to 175 days for the last several years.

Furlough days may save districts money, but they cost students valuable class time, according to Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust West. HIs organization reports that more time in school has been shown to close the achievement gap for English learners and low-income students.

“We’ve got 1.3 million English learners in this state, 50 percent of our students are low-income," Ramanathan said. "With our student population, we should be doing everything that we can to expand instructional time and now we’re getting to the point where we’re going to have the shortest – by far – school year in the nation. And it’s of tremendous impact when you think about the future economic strength of our state."

Carlsbad teachers have until today to vote on whether to accept their new contract.

Teachers are also bargaining to save jobs in San Diego Unified schools, where a third year of five furlough days is one of the cost-saving measures on the table.