November 12, 2009

Hawaii Teacher Furloughs Are a Necessity

Kids in Hawaii are losing 17 school days this year due to teacher furloughs.  The copious number of Fridays off probably have most children celebrating, but they are a cause for concern to many parents, who filed two lawsuits on the issue.

On Monday, senior U.S. judge Wallace Tashima denied a preliminary injunction, urging the parties to settle out of court and permitting the schools to take the remaining 14 Fridays off.  I agree with the decision, but many parents are still upset, and not because they don't want their children to fulfill every kid's dream of a shorter school-week.  

First of all, at least one parent from each family will have to take an unpaid day off work to provide care for the children while they stay home.  In this economy, the extra, unexpected strain on family finances was not met with much enthusiasm.  Second, parents feel that their children are losing a significant part of a school year and their education will suffer as a result.  Indeed, it might.  

Third, the parents of special needs children face the burden of not only child care costs, but the disruptive influence of an inconsistent schedule.  An attorney stated that other groups of children will also face a significant loss from the missing school days, such as those from military and low-income families.  This I also agree with.  Many children could have their education damaged by so many shortened weeks, or encounter increased behavioral problems.  

So why do I agree with the judge's decision, after acknowledging the risks and certain damage to many children?  

The reason for the furloughs happening in the first place is that the Department of Education is facing a severe budget crisis.  17 furlough days is by no means a perfect solution.  But the alternative is mass layoffs; and that, I can assure you, would be much worse.  Across the country, most classrooms are overcrowded as it is, and cramming in more children will certainly not help them learn.  Every single child in the system, every teacher and, as a result, every parent will suffer in the long-run if class sizes are increased due to layoffs.  

That being said, I think a long, hard look should be taken at the Department of Education's budget; any mismanagement should be punished severely given the drastic steps and sacrifices that are being made.  But if the question is furloughs or layoffs, furloughs will be better in the long-run for the economy, the parents, the teachers and, most importantly, the children.  

[The Associated Press]

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