Just the Point: Summer school instead of bullet trains

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A Winters Express op-ed column

By Richard Kleeberg Special to the Express Our Winters schools have reopened — or at least they have partially reopened — a full year after COVID-19 forced them to close. But what happens at the end of May? Will our schools close down again for summer vacation, after being open for only 10 weeks? Will students be offered only the traditional small summer program, with just a few students taking a handful of summer-school classes? I suggest that the Winters Schools launch a bold new venture — a full-time school program during the summer, for all students, with teachers working regular hours, creating an entire 10-week summer semester. It does not make any sense to have students out of school for the entire summer, when they have only been back in the classroom for just a few weeks. These students have missed an entire year of actual face-to-face instruction. Are we really going to tell them now to go home for summer vacation? I suggest that all of our teachers be encouraged to work full-time this summer, and that they be paid for this additional 10 weeks of work, at their regular pro-rated salary. So, instead of working their normal work year, which is approximately 40 weeks, they will work 50 weeks, and get paid an additional 25 percent over their regular salary. I imagine a majority of our teachers would want to take on this educational challenge, if they are paid. And while some parents may still choose to take their kids away for a summer vacation trip, I think most Winters parents would be overjoyed to see the schools remain open for a summer of regular in-class instruction. Now you may be wondering, how can our school district pay teachers to work an additional 20 percent, to implement a full summer semester of instruction. Well, they can’t. But the State of California certainly CAN. The money for summer education should be taken from the funds currently allocated to the astonishingly expensive state High-Speed Rail Line. This rail project — a 220 mph bullet train running from San Diego to Los Angeles, up to San Francisco and then to Sacramento — was approved in 2009 for an estimated cost of $35 billion. But the latest estimates show that the expected cost is now at least $110 billion, and that is just for a scaled-down portion from Los Angeles to San Francisco. (The only portion actually under construction now is a tiny segment from Merced to Bakersfield.) I suggest that the state place a two-year moratorium on High-Speed Bullet Train expenditures, which would provide up to $5 billion that can be much better used to support school districts that choose to implement full-time, regular, in-class instruction for the entire summer. Let’s delay the High-Speed Rail project for a year or two, and instead fund full-time summer education for more than six million California students. It would be a decision that would greatly enhance the future of California.

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