Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

The School Year Starts; But When Will It End?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Learn as much as you can as fast as you can.

    That's the best advice you can give California students as they start to return to school this week and next week in many districts. Teachers should think about teaching as fast as they can, too.

    One reason for this advice has to do with testing: schools start so early in California to give students and teachers more instruction time before standardized testing in the spring.

    This year provides another reason to learn quickly:  an academic year is beginning, but for the first time, no one really knows when it will end.

    The reasons for the uncertainty are ballot initiative politics, Gov. Jerry Brown's budget and California's broken governing system.

    The fate of Brown's Prop 30, the temporary tax initiative, won't be known until November. The length of the school year may depend, both directly and indirectly, on whether the measure passes.

    The recently passed state budget includes triggers that force cuts in education if the revenue from the measure doesn't materialize. State law limits how those cuts can be enacted by school districts, forcing them to shorten the school year. The school year can be shorted by up to three weeks.

    Hence, the uncertainty. Will the school year in your particular district end in late May, or three weeks earlier?

    This uncertainty isn't accidental. Brown has deliberately constructed the budget and the initiative to establish this set of circumstances and give voters a choice: vote for my temporary taxes, or see the schools close early.

    However it turns out, and no matter how long they'll have for their studies this year, California's students at the very least will receive a civics lesson: how it feels to be political pawns.

    Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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