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Gwinnett County Schools Teachers Work For Free During Summer Months To Help Georgia Students Read

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A group of teachers at Benefield Elementary School in Lawrenceville, Ga. are offering free reading classes to students this summer.

Led by teacher Karon Stocks, more than 40 teachers are volunteering three hours once a week during the summer months to keep kids' minds sharp, helping them review what they learned during the academic year. Around 100 families have already shown up for the classes in the three weeks the teachers have been operating.

"I think it's really important that the [kids] not just be on the computer or watching TV," Stocks told WGCL-TV.

The initiative by Stocks and her coworkers comes as Gwinnett County schools is facing an $89 million revenue shortfall.

The drop in funding is attributable to environmental changes like declines in tax revenue, loss of federal stimulus funds, increase in health insurance premiums for employees and the need to hire more teachers due to enrollment growth.

As a result, the district has been forced to take measures to close the budget gap. The district Board of Education approved a new budget last month that implements two unpaid furlough days for most employees, two additional students in each classroom and almost 600 fewer employees on payroll, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Furlough days, alone, saved the district $15.6 million in fiscal year 2011 and $10.4 million this year.

The move by the Gwinett County teachers comes after teachers from the troubled Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania made the news in January for choosing to teach for free, after the district revealed that it could no longer afford to pay its employees.

Poster teacher for the initiative, Sara Ferguson, was featured in a Philadelphia Inquirer piece reporting that Chester Upland teachers had resolved to keep working without pay "as long as we are able."

Since the piece, she has represented the local group of educators nationally, joining Michelle Obama in the First Lady's Box at the State of the Union address and blogging for HuffPost about her experience and issues in public schools.

Ellen Degeneres also presented Columbus Elementary School -- where Ferguson teaches math and literacy -- with a $100,000 check from JCPenney.

About 80 percent of the students attending Chester Upland schools are on a free and reduced lunch program, and the graduation rate is around 53 percent. Budget cuts have cost the district 40 percent of its teaching staff and 50 percent of its support staff.

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Gwinnett schools: Furlough days, larger classes and 585 unfilled jobs