School's Out for Summer, Literally

States' budgetary woes are forcing districts to reduce summer school offerings.

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The summer months can be a time for the best students to discover new interests and for struggling students to suffer through remedial classes. But because states are in the midst of a crippling recession, many such programs are being cut, and low-income students might be feeling it the hardest, the New York Times reports.

The federal stimulus bill has injected about $100 billion into public education, but a large portion of the funds have yet to reach schools. Even after receiving federal dollars, local officials have been forced to make deep cuts to school budgets because government revenues have fallen so precipitously. In states from North Carolina and Delaware to California and Washington, summer school is being cut to help plug the gaps.

In Los Angeles, school officials are scrambling to shave hundreds of millions of dollars from a $5.5 billion annual budget. They cut $34 million last month by canceling elementary and middle school summer school programs except those for disabled children. The move left 150,000 students without summer classes, and parents frantic to secure child care.

"We're seeing a disturbing trend of districts making huge cuts to summer school," said Ron Fairchild, executive director of the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, in an NYT interview. "It's having a disproportionate impact on low-income families."

In the 1970s, research from a Johns Hopkins professor, Karl Alexander, and other sociologists showed that the academic achievement gap between poor and affluent children widens during the summer. Since then, the importance of summer school has gained increasing attention.

The researchers claim that low-income students who hold jobs or are idle during the summer lose more math and reading skills than their affluent peers, who receive intellectual stimulation during the summer from canoe trips, language camps, or even ballet lessons.

In North Carolina, the state's school boards association surveyed its 115 districts, and three quarters of those that responded said they would eliminate summer school or reduce its scope.

"Things have gotten worse since we did the survey," Leanne Winner, a director at the association, told the NYT.

Richard DiPatri, schools superintendent in Brevard County, Fla., has heeded the calls of the Johns Hopkins research, making summer school classes free in recent years and available to all students, both for remedial work and for languages and other electives.

"We built it up, but last year here in Florida, our funding just went over the cliff," he says.

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Johns Hopkins University