Legislation passed in 2009 allowed Missouri public school boards the option of becoming four-day week school districts, as long as they provided at least 142 days of instruction and at least 1,044 hours of in-school attendance. Out of the 518 school districts in Missouri, 61 opted for a four-day week in the 2019-2020 school year and ten more have approved the change for 2020-2021.
Four-day week school districts have emerged for two main reasons: (1) to save money on transportation and (2) to improve teacher recruitment and retention.
Four-Day Week School Districts Look to Save $$$ on Transportation
As OneMissouri has previously reported, most districts that have adopted the shortened school week are strapped for cash. State funding has suffered over the past and has never been fully restored. One of the hardest hit areas lies in transportation, which is something school districts are required to provide. Due to budget cuts at the state level over the past several years, local boards of education have had to make difficult decisions in order to transport students to and from school each day.
One example comes from Gasconade County R-2 Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner, who recently told that district’s board of education that they are currently underfunded in transportation by 50%. The more rural a district is, the farther students often live from their school. This means more buses, more drivers, more fuel and maintenance costs, and more repairs. Governor Mike Parson advocated for increased public school funding by adding $10 million to the state’s K-12 education funding formula in his 2020 State of the State address, but it remains to be seen if state lawmakers will support that proposal.
But, is cutting out a full day of instruction worth the savings? According to a report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), national finance data concludes that the actual savings for four-day week school districts were between 0.4% and 2.5%. If all districts are underfunded by 50% as in the case of Gasconade County R-2, the savings don’t appear to make up for the shortfall of state funding.
Four-Day Week School Week Districts & Teacher Retention
According to the Learning Policy Institute, nationally an average of 8% of all teachers leave their classrooms each year. In Missouri, the average is 11%. In districts already struggling to make ends meet, it’s even worse.
The Warren County R-III school district made the switch to a shortened week this year, primarily to slow down the increasing number of teachers being lost each year to neighboring districts. The reason? They pay more. Last year, the district lost 20% of its teachers. That can have a devastating impact on outcomes such as student achievement, high-stakes assessment scores, and graduation rates.
Warren County R-III administrators think reducing the school week down to four days may entice teachers to stay within the district rather than packing up and heading down the road for a larger paycheck. And they’re not alone–this was a common theme among school administrators at the fall Missouri Association of Rural Education (MARE) conference. One superintendent expressed a sentiment shared by many:
Four-Day Week School Districts: A Band Aid Approach
But is cutting an entire day from each school week the answer? The clock hour requirement is made up through making those four remaining days longer, but students’ brains get tired. So do teachers’ brains. And, because the school days are longer, that means students have to get up even earlier to catch the bus, and they get home even later.
Are four-day week school districts really what we want for Missouri’s children, and for Missouri’s future workforce? It’s time state lawmakers got serious about making P-12 public education a priority in the Show-Me State.
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