Front-Page Story Gets Nostalgic for Summer School

Thursday's lead story by education reporter Sam Dillon celebrated the joys of....summer school?

Here's the full deck of headlines, which crammed in two dubious ideas: First, that students would prefer being in school during the summer; second, that keeping the schools open would be a valid use of the economic "stimulus" money: "Facing Deficits Some States Cut Summer School - Students Left At Home - Stimulus Money Hasn't Been Used to Close Budget Gaps."

A year ago, the Brevard County Schools ran a robust summer program here, with dozens of schools bustling with teachers and some 14,000 children practicing multiplication, reading Harry Potter and studying Spanish verbs, all at no cost to parents.

But this year Florida's budget crisis has gutted summer school. Brevard classrooms are shuttered, and students like 11-year-old Uvenka Jean-Baptiste, whose mother works in a nursing home, are spending their summer days at home, surfing television channels or loitering at a mall.

Kids forced to hang out at the mall when they could be cooped up in a classroom studying Spanish verbs? Not quite our idea of a living hell, to be honest, but to each his own. And judging from book sales, kids don't appear to need academic incentive to read Harry Potter.

Nearly every school system in Florida has eviscerated or eliminated summer school this year, and officials are reporting sweeping cuts in states from North Carolina and Delaware to California and Washington. The cuts have come as states across the country are struggling to approve budgets, and California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, declared a fiscal state of emergency on Wednesday.

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

The federal stimulus law is channeling $100 billion to public education, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has repeatedly urged states and districts to spend part of the money to keep schools open this summer.

If spending money on summer school is stimulus, then what isn't?It would be more honest to simplycall it liberal spending priorities. But Dillon doesn't question it.

But thousands of districts have ignored Mr. Duncan's urgings. In Florida and California, for example, government revenues have fallen so precipitously that, even after receiving federal stimulus dollars, local officials have been forced to make deep cuts to school budgets. Officials in many other states, considering summer school a frill, despite research showing it can narrow the achievement gap between poor and affluent children, have spent their stimulus money elsewhere.


Some systems have spent federal stimulus money to invigorate summer school. These include Montgomery County, Md., and Cincinnati, where officials have used $1.5 million of the city's stimulus dollars to offer full-day summer school at its 13 lowest-performing elementary schools, nearly doubling enrollment to 1,700 students.

Dillon actually found some parents nostalgic for their long-lost days of...summer school.

All the cuts nationwide have put into jeopardy an institution that has turned summertimes past into nostalgic memories for millions of Americans.

"I remember as a child growing up, summer school was enriching and fun," said Tamara Sortman of Sacramento, where cuts have left her three children with no summer school option. "I took guitar one summer, creative writing another. I remember an arts class where we did tie-dying. I had a single working mom, and summer school kept me out of trouble."

Dillon has a history of favoring huge government outlays on education.