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Georgia Governor Hopes Budget Plan Will Help Restore Lost School Days

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

During his State of the State speech last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal expressed his hope that this year's state budget would allow districts to restore instructional days that many districts had trimmed out during the economic downturn to save money.

Gov. Deal said his budget request would provide almost $8 billion for K-12 education—an increase of $547 million from the previous year.  

According to a Business Week article, a large portion of that money is required by law to increase with growing student enrollments. However, it would still be the largest single year increase in K-12 funding in seven years,according to the governor in his speech. 

Georgia's school districts have had to deal with tighter budgets during the economic downturn,with some laying off teachers and other school workers and enacting furlough days. Many districts also reduced the number of instructional days in the academic year as a way to save money. To meet the state's class-time requirements, many schools replaced this time with longer school days.

In Georgia, schools are supposed to offer 180 days of instruction. The current average number of school days that districts are operating under is 176 days, according to the Georgia School Boards Association. At least one district, Chattooga County, is operating on as little as 144 days, according to Justin Pauly, the communications director for the Georgia School Boards Association. 

"Each district has a different financial situation and climate," Pauly told me in a phone interview. "Cutting the school year and furloughing employees aren't things the districts want to have to do, but some are in positions now where they're having to take drastic measures."

In 2010, Georgia lawmakers also passed a waiver that allowed districts to have larger class sizes through 2013 to cope with the difficult budgetary climate.

In his address last week, Gov. Deal said he planned to partner with local school districts to restore instructional days with the state money in the budget. He also said he wants to eliminate teacher furloughs and increase teacher salaries, among a range of other proposals.

"These funds will provide our local school systems with the resources and flexibility to address the most critical needs of their students and teachers," the governor said.

Deal is not the only governor to discuss learning time in his State of the State address this year. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proposed extending the school day and year for districts, as a way to improve the state's education system.

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